Terry Jones (director)
18 April 2019 (released)
Can it really be 40 years since Monty Python’s Life of Brian was released to a controversy that has had few parallels since?
Watching it again after some time and from this distance it looks more than ever as a natural successor to The Holy Grail; as a collection of sketches pinned together with a slim narrative. That is still the case but it has a more fluid continuity than its predecessor and doesn’t jar quite so much, which is the main problem for me with Holy Grail.
Lovingly presented in its original standard definition it’s threadbare production probably wouldn’t benefit too much from a buff up in all honesty. But that’s not what this is about as the essential element is the script which apart from some bits has aged very well. You can stop the film anywhere you want and you’ll find a bone-fide classic sequence. And as well repeated as they are, they are still very funny.
Never the greatest of actors the team just grab their allotted character(s) and run with them: Big Nose on the mount is still base raw comedy of insults, the sophistication of Brian’s grammatically poor Latin graffiti and the teasing of Pontius Pilate in the throne room as the guards’ corpseing are just some. There are many and it is infinitely quotable.
What is interesting to consider now is that the narrative thread of Brian (Graham Chapman) doesn’t these days look that offensive and tends to cast doubt on the oft cited assertion that this film couldn’t be made today. Granted it does have a clear reference to the life of Jesus but I would suggest, it is actually quite respectful. Brian is by and large an innocent caught up in circumstances and it certainly doesn’t appear blasphemous.
The film however is scathing of those around him and what they represent: The pseudo intellectuals of the various Judean factions who debate endlessly and meaninglessly, and like many movements end up splitting and fighting amongst themselves. And, of course there’s peoples’ gullibility and weaknesses as they search for direction and guidance.
What could play more difficult with a first-time audience (and does stick out more now than it did on first release) is the perceived mocking of some conditions such as stammering and maybe mental illness. If these scenes are awkward to watch now then they have to be seen in the context of the time it was made, and people can watch safe in the knowledge that it is very unlikely that these conditions would be held up to ridicule today.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian has a limited one-day release at selected cinemas on 18 April.