Film Review: Bill (2015)

Bill reunites the Horrible Histories crew around Shakespeare and features a vivid if too brief turn from Helen McCrory as Elizabeth I

“Do you know Penge at all?”

Just a quickie for this as it just popped up on the iPlayer and it is one of the few Helen McCrory performances left that I hadn’t seen. Bill comes from the team behind Horrible Histories and as it tells an amusing version of the Bard’s arrival in London, it certainly raises a few chuckles. Written by Laurence Rickard and
Ben Willbond and co-starring them with Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas and Jim Howick, who between them play upwards of 40 roles, its gentle ensemble comedy aesthetic offers good family entertainment.

Plotwise, it wisely doesn’t make too much of meal of things, aside from the witty suggestion that Shakespeare spent at least some of his ‘lost years’ handing out leaflets dressed as a vegetable. Nor does it get too bogged down in self-referential Shakespearean humour, recognising first and foremost that jokes need to be funny (qv the guards, my favourite bit of the film). Walsingham popping up unexpectedly, the cockernee accents, border control, the laughs come thick and fast and not always from where you’d think.

Supplementing the main company, Damian Lewis makes the briefest of cameos early on and Helen McCrory get a a Shakespeare in Love-ish turn as an Elizabeth I as grotesque, wryly despatching idiot men around her as she calls for a play to help deal with the Spanish problem. An all-too-glancing glimpse of this most mercurial of performers embracing a highly silly, vanity-free side.

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