Review: Bill

Horribly funny history of Bill and his quill


I can't say I've given a lot of thought to Shakespeare's "lost years". Mulling over ideas for the 37 plays and 154 sonnets that he would compose in the "claimed" years would almost certainly have taken up more than a few weekends, yet that crucial period between obscurity in Stratford-upon- Avon and fame in London remains a mystery. Until now. Bill - as the bard is dubbed in Richard Bracewell's film - did not even consider play-writing as a career option until he was kicked out of the band ''Mortal Coil'' around 1596. Evidently his impromptu improvisation on the lute during gigs was too much for the other members who thought he was called Phil, and as he had already tried contemporary dance, theatre was the obvious next step - much to the chagrin of his missus Anne Hathaway.

This is the story of Shakespeare according to writers Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond, who were part of the team responsible for spinning comedic fables around all sorts of historical characters in the mega- successful BBC children's TV series Horrible Histories.

Uniquely, the show amused kids and parents for different reasons and if you saw their Come Dine With Me set in ancient Rome, you'll know just what to expect from Bill as portrayed by Mathew Baynton who, like the other members of the versatile cast plays several other roles and much of the fun is in spotting the disguises. With more of a hearty embrace than a nod to Monty Python, which they proudly acknowledge, Bill shows the bard arriving in London and meeting Christopher Marlowe, who helps him get a job promoting ''five-a-die'' dressed as a tomato in the plague-ridden capital.

I'm laughing just thinking about it and as such historical liberties come thick and fast, you have to keep your eyes and ears open.

It is also rather nice that the actors are quite dashing, notably writer Willbond as an oily King Philip II of Spain. Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory have cameos, but it is the Horrible team you'll enjoy most. Is it better suited to TV? Probably, but it's a film for the family, so take them to the cinema.

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