Bill (2015 film)

Bill is a 2015 British family adventure comedy film from the principal performers behind children's TV series Horrible Histories and Yonderland. It was produced by Punk Cinema, Cowboy Films and BBC Films and was released in the UK on 18 September 2015 by Vertigo Films.[3] The film is a fictional take on the young William Shakespeare's search for fame and fortune, as written by Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond and directed by Richard Bracewell who co-produced with Tony Bracewell, Alasdair Flind and Charles Steel. It features the six lead performers playing several different roles each including Mathew Baynton, Martha Howe-Douglas, Ben Willbond, Simon Farnaby, Jim Howick and Laurence Rickard. Bill has received mostly positive reviews from critics and grossed $968,534[2] worldwide. The film also received nominations for the Evening Standard British Film Award for Award for Comedy and the Into Film Award for Family Film of the Year.

United Kingdom theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Bracewell
Produced byRichard Bracewell
Tony Bracewell
Alasdair Flind
Charles Steel
Screenplay byLaurence Rickard
Ben Willbond
Story byLaurence Rickard
Ben Willbond
StarringMathew Baynton
Simon Farnaby
Martha Howe-Douglas
Jim Howick
Laurence Rickard
Ben Willbond
Helen McCrory
Damian Lewis
Music byAndrew Hewitt
CinematographyLaurie Rose
Edited byGary Dollner
David Freeman
Billy Sneddon
BBC Films
Punk Cinema
Cowboy Films
Distributed byVertigo Films (UK)
Release date
  • 18 September 2015 (2015-09-18) (United Kingdom)
Running time
94 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$968,534[2]


Bill is set during Shakespeare's "lost years"—the crucial period, long a mystery to scholars, covering his rise from obscurity in Stratford-upon-Avon to fame as a playwright in London. According to the official synopsis, the film will tell the "real story" of what happens when "hopeless lute player Bill Shakespeare leaves his family and home to follow his dream. It’s a tale of murderous kings, spies, lost loves, and a plot to blow up Queen Elizabeth I." [4] Writer Rickard further explained that this "very different" version of the future Bard has already tried "everything from contemporary dance to playing lute in a band. He's never found his calling."[5]


The six members of the starring troupe have been announced as playing 40 total roles, in the manner of the Monty Python films.[4][6] Confirmed named roles[7] are listed below:

It was subsequently confirmed at the 2014 Cannes film festival that Homeland star Damian Lewis would be joining the cast as Sir Richard Hawkins.[8][9] Other supporting actors include:


BBC Films announced Bill on 13 May 2013, as a co-production with fellow UK production companies Punk Cinema and Cowboy Films. Head of BBC Films Christine Langan said that "we’re thrilled [to be] making the first film starring this team of incredibly talented and popular British comedy writers and performers."[4] In November of the same year reported that the BFI (British Film Institute) Film Fund had invested £1 million in the production, with further undisclosed amounts coming from BBC Films, LipSync and Screen Yorkshire, through its Yorkshire Content Fund.[6]

Principal filming began on 10 February 2014 at locations around Yorkshire, including York Minster, Skipton Castle, Marske-by-the-Sea, Bolton Castle and Selby Abbey. Other filming locations included Stowe School, Caroline Gardens Chapel in Peckham, London, and Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex. The closing scenes were filmed at Shakespeare's Globe, a modern recreation of the theatre where many of Shakespeare's plays were first performed.[14][15][16]

Former Horrible Histories co-stars Rickard and Willbond are credited with the Bill screenplay, and are also the top-billed performers along with the four other members of the HH starring cast (Baynton, Howe-Douglas, Farnaby and Howick).[4] Despite this connection, and sharing a similar subject matter, the film has no official affiliation with the earlier TV series. It is the second project (after Yonderland) created by the sextet as a means to continue working together as a troupe after Horrible Histories ceased production in 2012, while maintaining the familiar character-and-costume driven comedy style.[17] Making the move to film was "a bit scary," Willbond said, "but we cooked up a really nice plot."[16] Rickard described the overall tone of the new project as "a hundred different brands of idiocy, really... We staunchly defend the idiocy."[5]

In contrast to the conscientious grounding in accuracy that was the trademark of Horrible Histories, Bill is by design a purely imaginary tale. In the initial press release for the film, the co-writers noted that "We're playing with history, just as Shakespeare did, for the entertainment of the audience."[4] Commenting on the choice of subject, Rickard added that in fact "the joy of the "lost years" is we can tell a fun story without trampling on the facts—it gives us licence to take William Shakespeare on a truly ridiculous caper, yet end with him becoming the man the world knows."[14]

The first full-length trailer for the film was released in December 2014, at which point the film's theatrical release date – originally scheduled for late February 2015 – was confirmed to have been delayed until 27 March the same year.[18] This was subsequently revised again – with no official explanation – to 21 August.[3]

Vertigo Films announced on 12 August 2015 that it would be releasing Bill in the UK after previous distributor Koch Media had closed its UK film distribution business. Vertigo Films co-owner Rupert Preston told Screen International that “The film is really good fun and plays well with both adults and kids. It’s clever, bright and great British entertainment.” [19]


Bill: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
Released18 September 2015
LabelVarèse Sarabande
ProducerMark Lo
Andrew Hewitt film scores chronology
The Sea
Bill: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The Stanford Prison Experiment

The film's score was composed by Andrew Hewitt. The soundtrack was released on 18 September 2015 by Varèse Sarabande.

Track listing
  • 1593 – A Time Of War And Plague
  • Sir Richard Hawkins Is Captured
  • Bill Shakespeare And His Family
  • King Philip II Of Spain – Deuce Or Juice?
  • The First Fanfare
  • The Court Music Of Queen Elizabeth I
  • The Specialists And Walsingham The Spy
  • Bill Travels To That London
  • More Court Music
  • King Phil Sails To England
  • King Phil Lands In England
  • The Second Fanfare
  • Phil’s Catholic Lair
  • The Earl Of Croydon
  • Even More Court Music
  • Anne And Bill
  • Bill Pursued By Walsingham
  • Duelin’ Banjos
  • Phil Closes In On Christopher Marlowe
  • Marlowe’s Death
  • Marlowe’s Ghost
  • A Series Of Funny Misunderstandings – Bernard Hughes and Laurence Rickard
  • The Specialists And The Gunpowder Plot
  • Prologue To The Play
  • The Play Begins
  • The Final Sword Fight
  • Bill’s Final Speech To Anne
  • Mortal Coil
  • William Shakespeare


Bill was released in the UK on 18 September 2015 by Vertigo Films.[3] It was released on DVD in the UK on 15 February 2016.[20] It was shown on a one-time basis in the United States on 11 April 2016 through Fathom Events.


The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 89%, with an average rating of 6.32/10 based on 19 reviews.[21] Elliott Noble said 'the gags keep coming in a madcap tale that's Bard to the bone.' Alys Keys said 'Those who are unaware of their previous work will find just as much to enjoy in this iconoclastic approach to the bard as the most dedicated fans. No matter what your age or fan-status may be, it is simply a joy to watch.'[22] Mark Kermode said in the Guardian, 'Nicely balancing its historically literate gags with broad knockabout slapstick, Bill is a crowd-pleasing treat that should tickle audiences young and old alike.'[23] The film grossed $968,534[2] worldwide.


Year Award Category Nominee Result
2016 Evening Standard British Film Awards[24] Award for Comedy Richard Bracewell
Laurence Rickard
Ben Willbond
2016 Into Film Awards[25] Family Film of the Year Bill Nominated


  1. "Bill (2015)". IMDb. 18 September 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  2. "Bill (2015)". The Numbers. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  3. "UK Film Release Calendar". UK Film Distributor Association. 12 August 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  4. "Stars of BBC's Horrible Histories to make Shakespeare comedy film". BBC Media Centre. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  5. Kirby, Ben (23 April 2014). "Mark William Shakespeare's 450th birthday with this exclusive image from Bill". Empire Online. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
  6. Rosser, Michael (18 February 2015). "Koch sets Bill release date". Screen International. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  7. de Semlyen, Phil (18 February 2014). "First look at Shakespeare comedy Bill : The horrible history gets a release date too". Empire Online. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  8. Wiseman, Andreas (14 May 2014). "Damian Lewis joins Shakespeare comedy Bill". Screen International. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
  9. Listed in the Internet Movie Database.
  10. Sharp, Richard (21 February 2014). "Helen McCrory cast in Horrible Histories movie 'Bill'". THN: Hollywood News. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  11. Confirmed by the producers on the film's official Twitter account.
  12. "Damian Lewis". IMDb. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  13. "David Crow". IMDb. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  14. "Shooting set to commence on Shakespeare comedy 'Bill' in February 2014". Screen Yorkshire. 28 January 2014. Archived from the original on 18 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  15. Prior, David (18 February 2014). "Shakespeare comedy Bill begins filming at York Minster". Prolific North. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  16. Jury, Louise (16 May 2014). "Bard film makes all the world a stage for Horrible Histories". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
  17. Seale, Jack (10 November 2013). "Yonderland: We wanted to raid the dressing-up box and speak in silly voices". Radio Times. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  18. Reynolds, Simon (18 December 2014). "First trailer for Horrible Histories cast's Shakespeare comedy Bill". Digital Spy. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
  19. Rosser, Michael (12 August 2015). "Vertigo takes over 'Bill' release after Koch restructure". Screen International. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  21. "Bill". Rotten Tomatoes. 20 September 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2015..
  22. ""Bill" review". Den of Geek. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
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