Few are the people – at least in the UK, where I hail from – who have not heard of Monty Python. They are comedy greats, legends even – some would say they are the gods of all things funny. So who better to take a thoroughly irreverent and utterly silly look at the life of a boy born in Bethlehem at around the time BC clocked off and left AD to take over the calendar for a bit. No, not that boy. Brian.
There are people in this world who seem to be born to live in someone else’s shadow, and Brian, alas, is one such unfortunate soul. Coincidentally born under the same star as Jesus himself and unfortunate enough to grow up in the same part of the world too, life is one long case of mistaken identity and ridiculous events for Brian (Graham Chapman) – which suits the audience just fine, as his exploits are invariably hilarious to watch.
Python fans can no doubt name the main cast of Life of Brian without looking it up (shh, I know Python fans have almost certainly seen it, but humour me) – John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin join Chapman to form the usual Python lineup – and they are on fine form in this feature-length bit of silliness.
For a satire based around the time and events of the New Testament, it’s perhaps surprising how respectful the film is of Christ himself. Jesus barely appears in the film, and when he does he’s played straight. Rather than mock him, the Pythons instead pick on poor Brian, an unfortunate soul who finds himself with a growing following despite the fact that he really doesn’t want one. He finds himself standing at the back of the crowd during the famous Sermon on the Mount, dragged into party politics and insurgency, and accidentally inspiring an entire movement… of people who like to follow him around and ask his exasperated mother (Jones) some very personal questions.
Of course, popular following like that is bound to cause concern among the Roman rulers… if only about the standards of Latin grammar in the Jewish community. And Brian’s troubles are only beginning…
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already aware of Monty Python, and if that’s the case you probably either love everything they’ve ever done or already know their sense of humour is not for you. However, I discovered recently that I had a cousin who’d never heard of them, so for the benefit of those rare people (and the Editor, who’s glancing anxiously at the clock as I type) I shall finish this review with a brief suggestion of whether you’ll like it or not.
In short – yes, you will. Even if the humour – a kind of sarcastic parody of well-known tropes and ideas – isn’t quite up your street, once you’ve watched a bit of Python a lot of things will start making sense to you. Life of Brian came out in 1979 – and was instantly banned in many parts of the UK, denounced by the church, and forbidden in several countries, making it a box office hit – and has become such a deeply woven part of British culture that even if you’ve never seen a single Monty Python sketch or film, you’ve probably still made a reference to it at least once in your life. Hands up if you’ve ever whistled ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’? Yeah, that’s from the end of Life of Brian. See what I mean?
So basically, if you’re from the UK and want to understand your comedy heritage, or one of those inexplicable ‘British at heart’ types who somehow got shipped to the wrong country at birth, it is imperative to your cultural survival that you watch this. And all the other Monty Python things you can get your hands on, really. You won’t regret it.
I’d give this show 4 out of 5, for the benefit of people who for some reason don’t appreciate this kind of humour.
Eleanor Musgrove (is Brian… and so’s her wife)