DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: LIFE OF BRIAN

Thursday 24 January 2008


Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) dir. Terry Jones
Starring: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam


Young people may not know or remember that Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” was highly controversial in its day and widely dismissed and vilified by the Catholic establishment when it was it released. It's now almost 30 years later and though the film doesn’t feel like the naughty irreverent hot property it was back in ‘79 and in comparison the gags are farther apart than say, “Holy Grail” the Python brand of ‘silly’ comedy is always a joy to watch and will no doubt put a smile to your face and hurt your gut.

Python opts for a more traditional narrative as opposed to the pure sketch compilations such as “Meaning of Life”. At the opening, we follow the three wise men to Bethlehem where they search out the birth of the messiah. They find Brian, but soon realize he’s not the messiah they’re looking for and they move on to the next room. The film continues to follow Brian's (Graham Chapman) parallel path of Jesus in Judea in the biblical year of 33 AD. The film skewers the notion of a messiah – during a time when the people of Judea were actively looking for any person to lead them against oppression from the Romans.

Brian falls into league with a rebel group of Jewish dissidents called the "People’s Front of Judea" (not “The Judean People’s Front”). Brian inadvertently gets mistaken for the messiah again and develops a group of loyal followers. He is captured and crucified by the Romans like Jesus, but while singing a happy tune – “always look on the bright side of life”.

“The Life of Brian” actually topped a poll conducted by Total Film Magazine in 2000 of the funniest films of all time – high praise considering it bested Monty Python’s own “Holy Grail”. It’s actually one of my least favourite Python films – sitting just above “The Meaning of Life” and below “Holy Grail” and “And Now For Something Completely Different”. There are fewer uproarious set pieces than we are used to. Instead the strength of the film is its political and social critique of organized religion and the rigidity and irrationality of its followers.

No one is safe in a Python film though - Jews, Romans, Catholics, activists, zealots and people with speech impediments all take hits. Some of my favourite characters include Michael Palin's ex-leper, John Cleese's bureaucratic and ineffectual rebel leader and Eric Idle's stubborn Harry the Haggler. Graham Chapman who plays Brian is the straight man of the bunch. Though it's unusual for the troop to use a straight man, in the ridiculous Judean world they create, his role is essential in counterplaying the gags and enhancing the comedy.

Monty Python is a treasure of British comedy and each and every one of their films can result in spontaneous uncontrolable laughter. Beware. Enjoy.

Monty Python's Life of Brian is available from Sony Pictures Entertainment on DVD and Blu Ray January 28, 2008

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