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Film / Bill

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A 2015 British comedy film about William Shakespeare and the first big screen project by Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond — the comedy troupe who got their start in Horrible Histories and went on to create Yonderland and are often referred to as The Six Idiots. Written by Rickard and Willbond, directed by Richard Bracewell and starring the whole troupe plus Helen McCrory and Damian Lewis.

William "Bill" Shakespeare of Stratford is kicked out of a lute-playing band and, rather than getting a sensible job, decides to try his hand at writing plays, much to his wife Anne's annoyance. As stage plays just aren't viable in Stratford, Bill heads off to London, only to find out from playwright Christopher Marlowe that it's in the grip of plague and all the theatres have been shut as a precaution.

Meanwhile, King Philip II of Spain recruits a team of "specialists" and heads off to London himself with a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. Teaming up with Elizabeth's disloyal courtier the Earl of Croydon, Philip decides to stage a play as a means of smuggling gunpowder into the palace to blow up the queen.

Bill is rescued from his and Christopher's temporary job of handing out leaflets in a giant tomato costume to provide the play, but soon discovers he's the patsy in the scheme and, pursued by the Queen's loyal but incompetent agent Sir Francis Walsingham, must clear his name, uncover the plot and save the day.


  • Accidental Aiming Skills: Juan impresses Philip by killing a Red Shirt servant with a projectile weapon, then admits he was aiming for the pillar.
  • Accidental Misnaming: The Earl of Croydon is frequently mistaken for being the Earl of Crawley. Bill is called "Phil" more than once and Anne is called "Jan" by King Philip.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness / Historical Beauty Update: Everyone who isn't fictional is either slightly better looking or a lot better looking than in reality, given that the whole cast are pretty easy on the eye. They made some attempt to uglify Helen McCrory as Elizabeth I, who was supposed to be in her 60s, but it didn't really work.
  • Anachronism Stew: Most of the script is in modern English but slips into Shakespearean when Bill is writing. Handing out leaflets dressed in giant meat and vegetable costumes is clearly not an Elizabethan idea. The bad guys wear outfits made of modern black leather and call Philip "boss" rather than something more period-accurate for a king. Juan practices his cockney accent by referring to English dishes such as fish & chips which is a Victorian creation. And finally, there's the fact that whilst Elizabeth I is in her 60s, King Philip is a Mr. Fanservice who seems no older than his 40s when historically he was older than her.
  • Arc Words: "Hide in plain sight."
  • Axe-Crazy: Lope, from detailing his preferred and extremely gory way to commit murder in a bug-eyed, spitting rage to punching their co-conspirator’s servant in the face for no reason.
    Philip: "Seriously, Lope, what is wrong with you?"
  • Bad Job, Worse Uniform: Shakespeare and Marlowe take a job where they have to dress as a tomato and a cucumber and hand out flyers advertising vegetables.
  • Big Bad: King Philip of Spain.
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: Sported by Lope.
  • Bindle Stick: Bill takes one to London, it gets stolen off of the stick without him noticing.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: King Philip is the obvious bad guy, he's prepared to blow up a room full of innocent people to get his target, the Queen; threatens to set his violent, torture-happy dragon on Bill, holds Anne hostage and outright murders Christopher Marlowe. But his opponent is Queen Elizabeth who is engaged in Catholic persecution and has her own courtiers beheaded if she's "displeased".
  • Butt-Monkey: The Earl of Croydon to the other courtiers, which is why he decides to take revenge.
  • Camp Gay: The party planner who thinks Bill is flirting with him.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Christopher Marlowe doesn't really get comedy and spends much of the movie attempting to tell a Your Mom joke after Shakespeare introduces him to the concept. And failing.
  • The Chew Toy: Ian. Every time he appears onscreen, he gets injured.
  • Disguised in Drag: One of the henchmen seems to really enjoy doing this, even when the plan isn't supposed to require it. It soon becomes clear that said henchman is actually transgender and fully transitions to a woman by the end of the film.
  • Evil Wears Black: Philip and his henchmen all wear black and even have black hair. As the same actors play multiple parts, it also counts as Color-Coded for Your Convenience as it makes it easier to tell when they're playing the bad guys.
  • Eye Am Watching You: Lope to Elizabeth's entire court on his way out the door.
  • Fanservice: King Philip's shirtless scene practicing his sword work with the oranges, plus a brief shot of Larry Rickard with no trousers on.
  • Feet of Clay: Sir Francis Walsingham, agent of the queen. He thinks he's The Ace but spends most of the film chasing after the wrong person and is repeatedly knocked down and trampled over by his own men.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We know Bill will fulfill his dreams, make it as a writer and become famous, and we know King Philip's plan to assassinate Elizabeth I will fail. If you've done the research, you'll also know Christopher Marlowe will die after being stabbed in a pub.
  • Freudian Excuse: Apparently Lope's violent sociopathy stems from some kind of issues with his father.
  • Happily Married: Bill and Anne, though they go through a rough patch for a while.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Gabriel, who abandons Philip's team to rescue Bill after Bill is the only person to be nice to him/her.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Philip and his henchmen.
  • Historical Domain Character: William Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway, Elizabeth I, King Philip II of Spain and pretty much everyone else. The only completely fictional characters are the Earl of Croydon, Philip's henchmen and the various servants and peasants.
  • I Have Your Wife: When the first play goes missing, the bad guys capture Anne in order to coerce Bill into writing a replacement.
  • Karma Houdini: King Philip, Juan and even Lope get off scott free, despite being responsible for several deaths. When their plot is revealed, they just walk out of Elizabeth's court and go home to Spain. The Earl of Croydon is the only villain to be executed and he's the one who arguably deserves it the least.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Molly, a lady-in-waiting of Queen Elizabeth's, almost insults Elizabeth in front of Walsingham and then realises.
    "Shall I tell the old..., Majesty?"
  • Limited Wardrobe: Everyone seems to have one outfit each, even Elizabeth I. Probably to make it easier to tell which character someone's currently playing.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's not clear if Marlowe's ghost is real or if Bill is imagining him.
  • Mooks: The rest of Philip's henchmen, the ones who aren't played by members of the main troupe.
  • Mr. Smith: A disguised King Philip improvises the pseudonym "Geoff" (a name used in the troupe's works often enough to be a Running Gag) followed by "Smith".
  • Offscreen Teleportation: A skill of Walsingham's.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Philip disguises himself by wearing a false moustache, over the top of his real one. It fools everyone.
  • Plank Gag: Bill whacks Ian over the head with a stick he has over his shoulder as he wanders through the London market.
  • Repetitive Name: Lope Lopez.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: King Philip is a hands-on villain, leading the team himself and doing much of the brain work. And, although he doesn't get into a fight onscreen, the practice with the oranges shows he's also a proficient swordsman.
  • Rule of Funny: Anything anachronistic, plus the fact that King Philip's accent is less 16th Century Spanish Monarch and more South American Drug Baron.
  • Shirtless Scene: Philip gets one, whilst practicing his sword-fighting no less. And then squeezes orange juice all over himself.
  • Shout-Out: As ever, there's a few Star Wars references. Christopher Marlowe's ghost is obviously based on Obi-Wan's ghost and Croydon claims, "Poor people are easily startled, but they'll be back and in greater numbers".
  • Something We Forgot: Philip forgets that he has Sir Richard Hawkins in his dungeons till Elizabeth reminds him. The credits show that he is still there at the end of the movie.
  • Torture Technician: Lope or, at least, he wants to be one.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: William Shakespeare of Stratford travels to London and makes it as an actor and writer during the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I. Other than that, it's all fictional.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: For Bill after he's mistaken for a Catholic conspirator.
  • Welcome to the Big City: As Bill walks through London for the first time, people are coughing and vomiting from plague, a brutal stabbing takes place in an alley just behind him and a thief swipes his luggage.
  • Wretched Hive: London, full of crime and plague.
  • Your Mum: Bill invents them (which may be Truth in Television), Marlowe tries to join in but doesn't quite get it right.