Dir: Terry Jones, 1979
A blasphemous parody of Christianity or just harmless ribbing about organised religion?
In Judea, three wise men (John Cleese, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman) follow a star and make their way to the stable to witness the birth of Jesus Christ.
Bringing with them presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh the bestow their allegiance to the son of God.
Unfortunately, they get the wrong barn. Jesus was next door and have just witnessed the majestic spectacle that is the birth of Brian.
Now grown up, Brian (Chapman) still lives with his mother Mandy and sells snacks at the amphitheatre.
But Brian has a deep hatred for the Romans and joins the People’s Front of Judea, led by Reg (Cleese).
Already a target for the Romans, he accidentally gets mistaken for a messiah, prompting his arrest and crucifixion, where he joins in a chorus of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.
That is very, very condensed version of the film that does not do Life Of Brian any justice.
I’ve just given you an outline because there is so much that goes off in its ninety-plus minutes that if I’d said anymore we’d be here all day!
Arguably the group’s most famous film, it is certainly a contender for the most popular vying with their second feature Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Here, the boys are firing on all cylinders, hitting the funny bone 99% of the time.
Terry Gilliam’s opening credit sequence, backed by the Palin penned Brian’s Song is a marvel and must rank as one of the best credit sequences ever.
Giving birth to some of cinema’s most famous lines, this ranks as one of the most quoted films ever in history.
An important aspect that sets Brian apart from Python’s other output is the solid structure and coherent narrative.
Where And Now For Something Completely Different was just the best sketches from the first two series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus refilmed and repackaged for the American market, Holy Grail had an actual plot loosely linking what is, essentially, a series of sketches.
Much of the absurd and surreal humour that Python was known for, has given way for more mature and grounded comedy.
However, do note that I said “much” and not “all”. Not one to betray their natural inclination to the bizarre, there is still the odd absurdity thrown in; fleeing from the Romans, Brian tries to evade capture by running up to the top of a tower and falls to what would be his death. Luckily, at the precise moment he falls, a passing UFO controlled by two one-eyed aliens, pick him up and give him a spin around before crashing.
Only the former BBC stars could get a spaceship into a film set at the time of Christ.
Notice, I said at the TIME of Christ. Not Christ himself.
Life of Brian never, at any point, utters the names Jesus or Christ. Aside from a fleeting appearance where he gives his sermon on the mount, Jesus is not shown or mentioned.
Accusations of blasphemy were thrown at the team from the first day of production. Interestingly, when the script was first written, ThornEMI agreed to finance it when the Holy Grail proved profitable.
A week before filming was due to start, the financiers backed out and pulled the plug. The religious theme was too much for them to handle and they had second thoughts.
Even from inception, the film was causing a stir and striking the fear of God into people. Well, picketers and a sizeable chunk in lost revenue was what struck fear into them.
Left in limbo, the group thought that that was that. Thankfully, a very good friend of Eric Idle’s put the money up and gave the script a green light.
This friend was none other than former Beatle, George Harrison, and Handmade Films was born.
Possibly anticipating a degree of upset, the name of the film was changed from Brian of Nazareth to its more well-known alternative.
On its release, the film caused an all mighty backlash from devout Christians and Catholics.
Labelled as blasphemous and an insult to religion, Michael Palin and John Cleese appeared on Tim Rice’s late night talk show Friday Night, Saturday Morning to defend the film against its accusers and their opposing guests Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark.
It made for great television and assured the film that it would be a hit.
Even killjoy Mary Whitehouse waded into the furore by attempting to initiate a private prosecution against the film.
Britain, at the time, still had a law making blasphemy a criminal offence and the former school teacher had, successfully, instigated a prosecution against the magazine Gay News a few years earlier.
Sensibly, she dropped the legal action after being informed that it wasn’t likely to succeed.
Many councils overruled the BBFC’s uncut ‘AA’ certificate and upgraded it to an ‘X’ and some just banned it altogether!
Despite its infamy and box office win, Monty Python’s Life of Brian was kept off television until 1990 when it was shown on Channel 4 as part of their “Banned Season” of films.
So, is it really blasphemous and insulting?
Of course it’s not. The boys weren’t picking on religion. They weren’t picking on anything. It’s just satire.
People choose to be offended and if they’re not, they’ll find something.
A belly aching, rib breaking laugh of a comedy that will have you shouting “Biggus Dickus” and “he’s not the messiah! He’s a very naughty boy!” whenever you can.