Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans

review by
Danny Brogan, Common Sense Media
Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans [node:content-type] Poster Image
Historical adventure has facts, jokes, slapstick violence.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 92 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Friendship and teamwork are key themes. Characters from different backgrounds learn to respect and live alongside each other. Viewers will learn plenty about the Roman Empire. Toilet humor is prevalent. Death, murder, and destruction are played for laughs.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Orla is courageous and is far superior with a sword than her male counterparts. Atti is resourceful, and while sneaky, is generally good-natured. Boudicca is a leader who inspires people to join her uprising. She is portrayed as a modern-day pop star. Both Nero and his mother, Agrippina, are ruthless and obsessed with power. Initially the Romans are seen as arrogant and selfish, and the Celts as stupid and "savages."

Violence

Plenty of slapstick violence -- including some deaths. Characters are stabbed, have bottles smashed over their heads, and are poisoned. Characters are executed off-screen. There is some cartoonish blood spatter. Some characters are kidnapped and held captive. A character is shot in the arm with an arrow and is later seen wearing a bandage. A village is seen on fire. Characters sing a song about killing Romans. A large battle -- with swords -- takes place at the end of the movie. A severed head is caught by an innocent bystander.

Sex

Mild flirting. A romantic song is sung by two of the main characters.

Language

No profanity, but some potty humor and fart jokes. The Romans and Celts refer to each other in derogatory terms.

Consumerism

The movie is based on a TV show and series of books of the same name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some characters drink and discuss wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans is a British family comedy -- based on a TV show, series of books, and a website -- with plenty of slapstick violence. The movie, which features an all-star cast -- Nick Frost, Kim Cattrall, Warwick Davis -- takes a humorous look at Ancient Rome, specifically Boudicca's uprising in Britain. Children -- and adults -- are likely to learn a lot. Characters are stabbed to death, poisoned, and hit with objects, but none of it feels realistic. There is some blood spatter, but this is intended for comedic purposes rather than to shock. A severed head lands in someone's arms during a battle scene. While there are some clever jokes about the time period, there is also plenty of potty humor including fart jokes and people being sick. Some of the references are also geared towards a British audience. Both Orla (Emilia Jones) and Boudicca (Kate Nash) are strong female characters -- the latter leading a revolt against the Romans. Orla strikes up a friendship with Atti (Sebastian Croft) that borders on flirting. But ultimately their friendship serves as a message that people can -- and should -- accept each other for who they are, no matter their background. As with the TV show, characters occasionally break into song.

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What's the story?

In HORRIBLE HISTORIES: THE MOVIE - ROTTEN ROMANS, Atti (Sebastian Croft) a teenage centurion, is banished to Britain after upsetting Emperor Nero (Craig Roberts). There he meets a young Celt called Orla (Emilia Jones) who is determined to join Boudicca (Kate Nash) in her uprising against the Romans.

Is it any good?

The British TV series Horrible Histories has acquired a passionate following from both children and parents. Here was a show that expertly blended entertainment with education. A feature-length movie was inevitable. Unfortunately it never quite hits the -- albeit grand -- heights of its smaller screen offering. Perhaps to justify its movie-status, much of the cast from the TV series has been replaced by "bigger" names. Derek Jacobi's cameo as Claudius is a particular joy and nod to older viewers who will have seen him play the same role in I, Claudius. But the ensemble cast feels like a game of "spot the famous person" and the chemistry from the original cast is notably missing.

As with the TV series, the movie is scattered with musical numbers. While it's fun to see a tribe of Celts singing about how they will defeat the Romans, the songs are all instantly forgettable. The jokes are a mix of potty humor, and historical and cultural references. On the whole, they all land -- a joke about "limiting scroll time" being a highlight. Add to this the education value the movie provides -- Horrible Histories prides itself on its historical accuracy -- and there's much to take from this big screen debut. Perhaps it's just a result of being so spoiled with the TV show that expectations aren't quite realized.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why it's important to understand history in Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans. Did you see any correlation about what happens in the movie and what's happening today?

  • Talk some more about the Romans. Who were they? Were they good, bad, or both?

  • Discuss the violence in the movie. Did it feel realistic? Did that impact how you felt about it?

  • What positive messages can you take from the movie? How might we apply those to real life? 

  • How did the movie compare to the TV series and the books? What did you like? What didn't you like?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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