TV's Blackadder has been this way before but Richard Bracewell's Elizabethan-era comedy, starring the cast of Horrible Histories and Yonderland, is brisk, cheery fare that yields as many laughs as it does groans. Mathew Baynton plays a youthful Bill Shakespeare, not yet famous, living in Stratford with his wife, Anne Hathaway, and kids, at first convinced he should be a musician, not a writer. It is only when he is thrown out of indie mandolin band Mortal Coil (cue jokes about shuffling off) that he heads off to London to pursue a career as a writer and thesp.
A deliberately convoluted plot has the dastardly King Philip II of Spain angling for the throne of Queen Elizabeth (Helen McCrory, looking suitably regal and grotesque under layers of make-up and sounding shriller than Miranda "off with their heads" Richardson in the same role). Some of the puns and visual gags are weak but the film-makers keep them coming – and they always stumble on one that works sooner or later. The performances are engaging, too, ranging from the antic foppery of Simon Farnaby's Earl of Croydon to the comic dourness of Laurence Rickard's Walsingham.
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