I went to a film premiere a couple of weeks ago with the family at the Cambridge Film Festival. We laughed out loud at the slapstick and sniggered at the clever jokes, and one of us may have wet his pants during the Q&A session at the end.
Despite this, I urge you to go out and see Bill which is going on general release today. It is the sort of film which will appeal to fans of the zany, of exquisite timing, intelligent references, attention to detail and humour for all ages. It doesn’t patronise, however. My son gave it 5 stars and he is only 5 years old. So did I, even though I got a lot more of the references (literary, historical and movie-themed). My daughter, aged 7, knows next to nothing about Shakespeare, but loves history and wacky jokes she can’t see coming.
Thankfully, the jokes were stacked high and deep and even when we thought we saw them coming the delivery was rich and the twists were satisfying. William ‘Bill’ Shakespeare starts out in a lute band called Mortal Coil; although you may be expecting that at some point someone is going to shuffle off, the punchline is delayed and delivered brilliantly a few scenes later. It’s this kind of intelligent humour which means this film will be bought and played by English teachers for years to come for end of term treats. (“What’s that behind your back?”/”What these? Oh, some kind of rose – I don’t know what they’re called.”)
The cast play a motley bunch of sixteenth century characters, some developed from parts they had played in the sketch format of Horrible Histories, others equally silly, but all beautifully flawed and funny. Damien Lewis, Helen McCrory, Rufus Jones and others are drafted in and join in the silliness for a very rounded British comedy film experience. I have huge respect for the acting and writing and was grateful that we were able to get to the showing we did with the producers and several of the cast present. Larry Rickard and Ben Willbond have done a superb job of writing and I ‘m already looking forward to their next ideas. Mat Baynton has confidence in spades and delivers a compelling and hungry young Shakespeare. Martha Howe-Douglas is brilliant in several roles, Simon Farnaby has no scruples about playing idiotic villains and Jim Howick is an excellent Christopher Marlowe. You get the impression that this band of actors genuinely enjoy each others’ company and making each other laugh, and that this comedy of honesty and wit of every order translates to a film which families are going to watch together at Christmas, quoting lines at each other for years to come.
A top film, released in the UK today, PG rating (some language and innuendo).
A definite 5 stars from me.