Horrible Histories has just released a move, about the revolt of Boudicca. A sprawling reimagining of Nero’s empire, it is a film focused on how Roman colonialism affected individuals.
Atti, a young Roman (with his head always in a book) accidentally sells Nero a horse piss facial creme and is sent to Britain as punishment. Whilst there he falls in love with Orla, a wannabe Celtic warrior. It all ends well when his plan defeats Boudicca and leads to the deaths of thousands of Celts in a carefully planned massacre using natural features to create a bottleneck.
The film is a good portrayal of the period for children. It’s factually based and doesn’t blanch the more ugly sides of history, such as Nero’s matricide.
The film ends with a kind of “Romanisation” in Orla’s village where Celtic mud huts now sport Roman columns.
Romanisation is not a term that’s favoured any more. For one reason, it signifies a unified process across the empire when what was happening on the ground was a complicated process of coercion and cooption.
The Roman palace at Fishbourne shows us that some Celtic leaders did not just put Roman columns on their huts but lived in a splendour that would have rivalled many elite members of the Empire.
The film never touches on the social system but it was a rigidly defined one, based on slave labour and strong relationships between patrons and their followers (including ex slaves). It is strange that slaves are not mentioned at all in the film. Perhaps it is a reaction against the more sentimental portrayals of Roman slavery in sword and sandal films.
Gods of Horrible Histories
Another scene before battle shows the Roman and Celtic warriors praying to their gods. The Roman army was a large, cosmopolitan organisation. Small statuettes and inscriptions provide some proof that Roman soldiers worshipped “non-Roman” gods such as Mithras, Jupiter Dolicheus and Isis.
The Celtic gods remain relatively mysterious to us. Many were “synchronised” (another problematic word) with “Roman” gods such as Mercury or Mars.
One thing we do know about Britano-Celtic religion is that they held dogs in a particular esteem. They believed that dogs could cure illnesses (as the film shows). Perhaps it was for this reason that several Anubis images have been found in Britain.
In all, it is a fine film which owes a debt to its predecessors – Monty Python and Up Pompeii – but gives us something extra. The film has the creme of British comedy acting on show.
Yet it misses something from the TV shows, an undefinable quality that made them a massive success. Maybe it’s the lack of the established stars from the series, including Rattus Rattus, or maybe its the fact that the extended one and a half hour plot, with no small episodes, means that it just doesn’t have the frenetic energy of the TV show.
Certain scenes stand out. Derek Jacobi as Claudius is quite funny for the – how do you say, more mature – parents. Craig Roberts as Nero steals the show etc.
The film will deservedly remain a school room classic for years to come.