The Horrible Histories series has been many things over the course of its existence. I remember it best as a series of books, that helped millions of young people around my age foster an interest in history, I used to love the books as a kid. Unlike the dry and lifeless history books at school, these injected humour and an underlying naughtiness to make it seem all that more appealing to an 8-year-old mind.
There was also a highly successful TV adaptation that unfortunately came just after my time to watch such programs, so it completely passed me by, but it is highly regarded by those who remember it, in particular its range of quirky songs and presentation of historical events.
Now the series has been transplanted onto the big screen, a natural next step for the series perhaps, if not a bit late, given the length of time since the TV series ended, but not an unwelcome one by any means, they can usually depended on for a few laughs, right?
It is the time of Emporer Nero’s rule over the Roman Empire. An uprising in Britain led by the Celtic Queen Boudicca threatens to destroy the empire as it is known. Meanwhile, a young Celt tries to prove herself as a warrior.
Horrible Histories has been many things in the past; it has been crass, gory, and not a little inaccurate from time to time, but this film is the first time it has managed to be dull.
Granted, I’m not the target demographic for this film, but as someone who grew up with the books, I half-expected there to be something for all to enjoy, the spark of creativity that made the series what it was in the first place. Instead, all we got is a barrage of shallow, uninteresting characters spouting cliche dialogue, it’s an endless torrent of toilet humour to go with it.
I get that the series has a penchant for the crude, it’s what made the series seem so taboo to kids, but the constant reaching for the low hanging fruit of fart jokes and other assorted bodily functions, seems like it should be far below the property.
There’s nothing in this film that reminds me of what the series once was, there’s a few background jokes that raise a Twitter, but that’s all they are, a background, something on-screen for mere seconds before we’re whizzed off to watch more uninteresting dialogue spoken by one-dimensional character that no-one can even pretend to care about. It grapples with its own identity but rather than finding its own niche, it’s merely content to remain on the bottom-rung, constantly going back to the same tired jokes.
The real shame here is the potential this film had to follow in its predecessors footsteps and create a film that could make children interested in the historical elements, but it ineptly fails at even that, taking a series built on its education value to children and making it into lowest-common-denominator claptrap that most executives think is all children want.
There’s no life here, no spark, no intelligence. Even the token songs seem exactly that: token. The energy has been sapped away and replaced by a placeholder of a film, so blandly put-together and uninteresting that your children would genuinely be better off with The Boss Baby, as much as that hurts to say.
The Horrible Histories series was a beacon of light in its time; a gateway for so many towards the wonderfully varied world of history, and I’m sad to say that absolutely none of that light translates to this big-screen train wreck. A waste of time so epic that Nero himself would be impressed, it would leave even the most jaded cynic asking: ‘what have the Romans’ ever done for us’.
At best it’s merely forgetful, at worst it’s the trashing of a legacy not seen since the fall of the actual Roman Empire. Cynical, designed-by-committee nonsense, dished up to children who, frankly, deserve much better. There is absolutely no saving this pile of elephant droppings, not even it’s talented cast, who also deserve better. It’s safe to say missing this one won’t haunt you until your dying day, and just goes to prove that some history is best left in the past.