Literature Movie You Should See

You read that right.  This is a movie rec—for a movie that doesn’t even have a trailer out yet, no less.

First, let me introduce you to the BAFTA-winning minds behind this movie, the zany gentlemen and lady at the heart of CBBC’s Horrible Histories and Sky1’s Yonderland:

Horrible Histories, which is based on books by Terry Deary and bills itself as “History with the nasty bits left in,” has both taught and delighted British children and parents alike for five immensely popular seasons.  Because it’s a children’s show, the Python-esque humor is clean (except for the gross-out gags) and conveys facts in a memorable manner, especially through recurring sketches like “Shouty Man” and “Stupid Deaths” and parodies like “Twit Light: The Story of Lord Byron” and “Historical MasterChef.”  In fact, the team composed “The Rulers Song” in response to fanmail, to challenge young viewers to memorize the kings and queens since the Norman Conquest—and apparently it worked!

The show’s covered Shakespeare a few times before in sketch and song:

But now that Horrible Histories has ended, the cast is moving to the big screen to tackle Shakespeare again… from a different perspective.

If you’ve studied Shakespeare much—and if you haven’t, get thee to a bookstore!—you know that there’s a twelve-year gap in his chronology for which almost no records survive, the “Lost Years” between his leaving school and his marriage to Anne Hathaway (1578-1582) and between his marriage and the first record of a performance of his plays (1582-1592).  Screenwriters and stars Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond realized that Shakespeare could have been doing anything in that period, which gave them free reign to tell whatever story their imaginations could conjure.

The result is Bill, which looks to be part fact, part fantasy, part comedy of errors, part Tudor spy thriller.  Here’s the official synopsis:

Bill tells the story of ‘what really happened’ during Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’ – how the hopeless lute player Bill Shakespeare left his family and home to follow his dream. Along the way he encounters murderous kings, spies, lost loves, and a plot to blow up Queen Elizabeth.

The six main cast members—Rickard, Willbond, Simon Farnaby, Jim Howick, Mathew Baynton, and Martha Howe-Douglas—together play over 40 roles in the film, including Bill (Baynton) and Anne (Howe-Douglas).  But that still leaves room for other co-stars, including Homeland’s Damien Lewis as Sir Richard Hawkins, who appears to be in cahoots with King Philip II of Spain (Willbond).

Production partners BBC Films, Cowboy Films, and Punk Cinema haven’t released many details about the movie, which has a UK release date of February 20; they haven’t even announced when the film will premiere in the US. However, given the team’s track record, I expect first-rate silliness, if nothing else… and if it gets people interested in Shakespeare again, so much the better.

Elisabeth G. Wolfe

Elisabeth G. Wolfe, from Llano, Texas, is an alumna of the 2012 Taliesin Nexus Filmmakers Workshop. She is also a freelance translator and editor, indie historical fiction novelist, and adjunct professor of English at the Baptist College of Florida.