Bill (Cert PG)
Starring: Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard, Ben Willbond, Helen McCrory.
William Shakespeare (Mathew Baynton) is a self-doubting dreamer, who squanders his talent in a hard-strumming Elizabethan boy band called Mortal Coil.
He yearns to work in the theatre so he packs his knapsack, bids farewell to his wife Anne Hathaway (Martha Howe-Douglas) and heads to London, where he befriends Christopher Marlowe (Jim Howick).
The two men join forces on a play, which they intend to sell to The Earl Of Croydon (Simon Farnaby), who has promised a comical entertainment for Queen Elizabeth I (Helen McCrory).
She is blissfully unaware that King Philip II of Spain (Ben Willbond) is plotting to kill her. Thankfully, the Queen’s spymaster general Sir Francis Walsingham (Laurence Rickard) has a bulbous nose for trouble and sniffs out treachery in the ranks. Bill is an unabashedly silly romp from the creators of Horrible Histories and Yonderland, laden with cross-dressing, smut and the occasional documented fact.
Scripted by Rickard and Willbond, the film enthusiastically dons doublet and hose to run amok through the disease-ridden streets frequented by Oscar-winning romantic comedy Shakespeare In Love.
Production designer Simon Scullion and costume designer Charlotte Morris work tiny miracles on a limited budget to conjure a pungent vision of 16th century London replete with scheming, skulduggery and silly accents.
The cast’s energy is infectious and they frequently seem to be one smirk or snigger shy of corpsing en masse and ruining the take.
Humour remains just within the bounds of a PG certificate, including repeated appearances of a handheld torture device that is thrust where the sun doth not shine.
Crimson Peak (Cert 15)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Doug Jones, Sofia Wells.
Ten-year-old Edith Cushing (Sofia Wells) loses her mother to black cholera. The matriarch’s soul (Doug Jones) visits Edith after a closed casket burial to deliver a chilling warning: “Beware of Crimson Peak”.
Fourteen years later, Edith (now played by Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring author at odds with the prevailing attitudes of late Victorian society.
She falls under the spell of an impecunious British baronet called Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). They marry and move to Sharpe’s crumbling ancestral home, Allerdale Hall in Cumberland.
Thomas’ enigmatic sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) also resides at the ramshackle mansion. As Edith acclimatises to her surroundings, she stumbles unwittingly upon dark secrets.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Edith’s childhood companion Dr Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) grows suspicious of Sir Thomas.
Crimson Peak is a visually opulent gothic romance set in 19th century New York and snow-laden Cumbria. If looks were everything then Guillermo del Toro’s film would be one of the year’s best.
The Mexican filmmaker exploits shadow and light to striking effect and he beckons gnarled, tormented spirits with hollow eyes and screaming mouths that seem to warp the world around them.
Wasikowska captures the naivete and resilience of her independent woman while Chastain embraces her character’s obsessiveness with aplomb.
Hunnam’s rival suitor is more of a plot device rather than a fully fledged protagonist and remains in the moth-ravaged background.
Co-writer Matthew Robbins draws inspiration from Daphne du Maurier and Henry James for a script that tantalises and teases for the opening hour, but falls short as the paranoia rises.