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Review: ‘Bill’ tries for Monty Python humor, but Shakespeare comedy falls short

‘Bill’
Matthew Baynton as William ‘Bill’ Shakespeare from the movie “Bill.”
(Koch Media / Front Row Filmed Entertainment)

If you’re looking for a fix of Monty Python, or even “The Princess Bride"-style humor, the Shakespeare comedy “Bill,” directed by Richard Bracewell, might scratch the itch, but it’s a poor facsimile of the real thing. This cheeky take on England’s greatest bard takes place during Shakespeare’s “lost years” when he is a struggling playwright caught up in a “Catholic plot” perpetrated by King Philip of Spain to off Queen Elizabeth.

The actors are the troupe behind the British children’s series “Horrible Histories” and “Yonderland,” and each one takes on at least four to six roles. A standout is Simon Farnaby, who brings a certain prim and poncy élan to his portrayals of the scheming Earl of Croydon, Spanish knight Juan Domingo and Russian loan shark Dmitri Alexandrovitch.

Bill himself is played by Mathew Baynton as the kind of struggling hipster screenwriter who haunts many a Los Angeles coffee shop. He’s 30, his wife is fed up with his lofty dreams, he’s scraping by in the big city handing out fliers while dressed as a giant tomato, and he jumps at a break, even if it is rather sketchy.

The dialogue, with a script by Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond, is a mix of conversational and proper old English, with plenty of references to Shakespeare’s work, though they fly by, rather than deepen the themes of the story. There are a few chuckles to be found in “Bill,” but this is decidedly more “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” than “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

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“Bill”

Not rated.

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

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Playing: Arena Cinema Hollywood.


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