Bill: Plays, Plots, and Plenty of Puns

Friday 3 August 2018

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5 stars
Ever wondered how Shakespeare came to be known as the greatest writer the English language has ever known? Bill, the adventure comedy film from the main cast of Horrible Histories, will give you all the answers. Well... Sort of... Not really. But it will give you a good chuckle and the urge to learn more about the bard.

Bill opens with Richard Hawkins, essentially a favourite pirate of Queen Elizabeth I, stealing from Philip II of Spain. A bit odd, for a film about the life of Shakespeare, but the plot that begins to unfurl soon finds its way to Stratford. Or rather, Bill makes his way from Stratford to London and walks right into it. It may seem a little confusing at first, but the seriousness of it all is soon overshadowed by the hilarity of it all and you pick it up quite easily once the puns start flowing.

The Catholic vs Protestant strife of the Tudor era is woven into Bill's story when Philip journeys to England in order to meet with and kill the Queen, but ends up putting on a play for her instead. The plan starts out as the Queen hosting a play, written by one of her courtiers, for the Spaniard but it soon turns into something more complicated than that: Bill befriends Christopher Marlowe and writes a play. Philip hides under the Queen's nose. Bill's wife, Anne, accidentally informs the enemy of his play. Marlowe rats Bill out to the Queen's spymaster, Walsingham, for something he didn't do. Accusations fly, people die, and things just go a bit awry.

The humour, however, is much more straightforward. A mix of slapstick, puns, and the odd innuendo or two, it's light, easy to follow, and guaranteed to make you at least snort if not laugh. Some of the jokes are (arguably) terrible - but the cheesier the better, if you ask me - and some are so subtle you'll have to rewind to make sure that you did get it, but there's definitely something for everyone. The timing and delivery of every line is spot on as well, and nothing feels forced or unnatural - thanks in large part to the chemistry between the main cast that is just so delightful to see onscreen, making for a fantastic viewing experience. The finished product really gives the impression that everyone loved what they were doing and gave it their all.

Each performance is spectacular and the roles - of which each member of the main cast has multiple - perfectly assigned. Standouts include Mathew Baynton's titular Bill and Ben Willbond's Philip II. The former is just the right amount of laddish cockiness blended with naive hopefulness, and the latter what can only be described as 'flamboyant emo panto villain'. Completely ridiculous, yes, but well suited to the film and hilarious every time he was on screen.

Not a fan of Shakespeare, though? No worries! Bill is still enjoyable and accessible as, although it focuses on the history of him, it doesn't really. A lot of liberties are taken with Shakespeare's story (for instance, it's safe to assume he didn't dress as a giant tomato) thanks to his 'lost years' that are, well, lost to history. Bill sneaks into this gap in the timeline and presents a fun, family friendly idea of how the bard's life could have panned out.  There's no flowery, metaphorical Shakespearean language to deal with and his famous works are only alluded to (because, of course, in Bill's timeline they haven't been written yet) so it's easy going from the start. And the historical time period is immersive with its costumes and the overall feel of things, yet it's not overwhelming: akin to many scenes from Horrible Histories - which shouldn't be a surprise, given the people involved with it. It's enjoyable for the more intense history buffs and those that just like watching films set in a time before our own, finding the balance between too much history and not enough that's truthful.

The short and long of it is that Bill is a fantastic film guaranteed to put a smile on the face of anyone that watches it, whether they be a lover of Shakespeare or just a lover of cinema.


  1. Pllllease tell me Simon Farnaby is in this! ;)

    1. Yes!! He plays Bill's rival, I guess you'd call him, and is utterly hilarious. Definitely worth watching whilst it's still on iPlayer!

    2. It's on iPlayer?! Awesomeness!!!!! I love Simon Farnaby ;)


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