Wednesday 18 September 2019

Film of the week: Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans

Cert: PG; Now showing

Kim Cattrall and Craig Roberts in Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans The Movie
Kim Cattrall and Craig Roberts in Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans The Movie
Cohen and Marianne

Terry Deary's Horrible Histories books have been hugely successful in bringing the gorier and more scatological aka interesting details of history to several generations of children. They spawned a respected set of TV series and have now, under the directorship of Dominic Brigstocke, become their own first film. Reviews so far have been mixed but with the codicil that I haven't seen the TV series with which it is being unflatteringly compared, I rather enjoyed the film.

Back in my childhood - 1976 it turned out thanks to Google - I remember my mother watching I, Claudius, a BBC drama about said Claudius which seemed to have enough bosoms in it to be generally deemed unsuitable for children. Derek Jacobi played the eponymous Roman emperor back then and one of Horrible Histories' first jokes, which no child will get, is to have Jacobi briefly reprise the role here. His death leaves his son Nero (Craig Roberts) as successor but, as he is yet to come of age, his mother Agrippina (Kim Cattrall) is regent. Nero is the worst kind of dope, he doesn't know it, and battles with his mother for power.

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When the Celts revolt in Britain under Queen Boudicca (Kate Nash) assorted legions are charged with quelling their bellicose ardour. Among the soldiers is reluctant warrior Atti (Sebastian Croft) who has been sent there as a punishment for selling fake gladiator sweat. One of Boudicca's most devoted followers Orla (Emilia Jones), has been banned from following the queen into battle by her father (Nick Frost) who says she is too young to fight. In order to prove her worth she kidnaps Atti and brings him back to her village.

There are poo and wee jokes, a kleptomaniac granny (Joanna Bacon) and Lee Mack as a legionnaire wistful for Rome, there is plenty of history and added tongue-in-cheek musical numbers. It trots along well, is funny and while unlikely to become a classic of children's cinema, I thought it a most enjoyable hundred minutes.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Marianne and Leonard

Cohen and Marianne

Cert: 15A; Now showing 

According to veteran pop culture documentary maker Nick Broomfield, Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love is his most personal work date. He has also said that he found the film a little difficult to structure and it is at times a little meandering. Perhaps on occasion too it assumes the audience knows as much as he does yet it works. It gives a sense of a place and time, and of the people. I didn't know I had any illusions about Leonard Cohen until they were shattered.

In 1968, as a 22-year-old law student, Broomfield was recommended to visit the Greek isle of Hydra. There he found a bohemian community enjoying copious drugs and free love. At the centre of the community was a Norwegian woman called Marianne Ihlen, who, with her toddler son, was living with Leonard Cohen, still a writer, not yet a musician. Marianne and Broomfield had a brief affair and stayed in contact over the ensuing decades, hence his insight into the relationship between Cohen his muse, through good and bad.

Don't let the slow pace of the songs fool you, Leonard, nicknamed Captain Mandrax for his drug penchant, wooed women with a thoroughness that would put many of his more famously womanising contemporaries in the shade. It's the story of their love, not a biography of either Leonard or Marianne and although it meanders on occasion, it works. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor


The Chambermaid


Club Cert: Now showing IFI

After several award-winning short films Lila Aviles's debut feature, co-written with Juan Carlos Marquez, is a surprisingly effective slice of life. The film doesn't really have a plot in the traditional sense, but it is engaging and affecting, reminiscent in ways of Alfonso Cuaron's Roma but with a more global and current slant.

Eve (Gabriela Cartol) is the chambermaid (La Camarista) of the title. One of the almost invisible army that keeps guests in the luxury to which they are accustomed in a high- end hotel in Mexico City, the film opens in silence as Eve cleans a room. A surprise awaits her, but even a surprise proves the invisibility with which staff are so often greeted.

The details of Eve's life emerge slowly - she is a 24-year-old single mother who works so much she doesn't often get to see her four-year-old son. She showers at work because she doesn't have one at home and from the opulence of the hotel to the friendly but bored mother who wishes for time away from her baby, Eve is daily confronted with lives opposite of her own. She accepts that Us and Them factor, hankering instead after what feels more possible, a job on the prestigious 42nd floor and a red dress in lost property. Shot entirely within the hotel, it gives a sense that so much of Eve's life is given to the transient comfort of strangers. It's Mexico, but it's everywhere, and although her ingrained servitude seems perhaps alien, the film makes you wonder if it really is.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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