This Easter weekend I engaged in my only tradition of the holiday. I watched Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. One of the finest examples of satire to ever grace our screens and one of the best comedies of all time. A blessing we almost didn’t receive. EMI’s Lord Delfont cast his eyes over the script the week filming was to begin. He immediately decided it was not a film one of his many production companies would be making.
A Risk For Production Companies
There’s certainly no argument that Monty Python’s new film would be a risk for production companies. The film was made at a time when Christian doctrine was at the centre of a Conservative party led by Margaret Thatcher. Luckily for us former Beatle George Harrison took that risk when his production company; Handmade Films Limited put up the £2 million required to save the movie when filming was stopped just as the cast were ready to start in Tunisia.
Keeping British Film Alive
There’s a strong argument that Monty Python’s Life of Brian kept the British film industry alive during the 80s. When religious groups got wind of the satire’s sending up of Christianity they protested the film as blasphemous which led to the distribution of the Python’s new film tripling to around 600 screens. Its success led to George Harrison’s production company HandMade films being able to invest in many more films such as Time Bandits and Withnail and I. Eric Idle once proclaimed: “If you looked at the British film industry and took HandMade’s films out, there would be almost nothing left.”
Despite protests from religious groups, the satire is only tangentially prickling at religion. It is actually an excellent political satire. It serves as a strong warning about the dangers of the latest messiah, false prophets, or just dedicating yourself to the followings of a misguided egotistical man, who is clearly unwilling to get his hands dirty. A lesson we could all stand to learn from. Whether it’s Reg, Pontius Pilate or the eponymous Brian. It warns us to watch out for a good speaker, someone who is good with their words, someone who knows how to work a crowd. Even the few seconds spend with the stone salesman speaks to that. A keener eye reading the script would have shown production companies this really was a risk worth taking.
Another political point it makes is against the different warring factions during the troubles in the UK. Reg shows disdain at being called the Judean People’s Front when he is clearly the leader of the People’s Front Of Judea. In line with the fact that The Real IRA is not the real IRA, no, the real IRA is the Provisional IRA. Then you had your Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and in Northern Ireland the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). You can see why Brian gets a bit mixed up sometimes.
Even the “what have the Romans ever done for us” scene is still referenced today. Take, for example, Patrick Stewart’s version; what has the EU ever done for us made around the time of the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU.
Light Religious Satire
There is a little vague poking fun at religious doctrine. When Brian is forced to proselytise after falling through his balcony, he is shouted down before he can say; “How they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” Wars over religious disputes are admonished. Brian’s impromptu followers argue over whether Brian’s shoe is a sign that they should gather shoes or remove shoes. Trivial at best.
This film should be a lesson to protesting religious groups. Not only do they not work, but they actually achieve the opposite. They don’t stop people going, they do in fact encourage people going. When some UK councils banned the film, fans would simply gather at a nearby town. Terry Gilliam said: “I thought at least getting the Catholics, Protestants and Jews all protesting against our movie was fairly ecumenical on our part… We had achieved something useful.” That you did boys, that you did.
Life Of Brian is an absolute bucket list film and religious followers actually should not be put off. There’s only some light ribbing of Christianity.
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