It’s no surprise that this film was hotly controversial on its initial release, since it tells the story of Brian, a hapless Messiah of sorts, condemned to live in the shadow of the Other Guy from Galilee. Its debut saw the first stirrings in popular culture of the phenomenon of synthetic outrage – then only practised by the more conservative elements of society; now everyone is at it – with most of the complaints about the film coming from people who hadn’t even seen it. In fact the Monty Python team were nonplussed by the media hoo-hah – true, they had set out to make a film lambasting Christianity but had hit a wall and decided to change tack after all coming to the conclusion that Jesus Christ was a pretty cool kind of guy.
Whatever your stance on blasphemy, this is by far the best of the Monty Python team’s four excursions into celluloid. The Life of Brian was also the highest rated British film when UK TV station Channel 4 ran a Top 100 poll a few years ago. When you consider that it was up against such utter classics as Brief Encounter, comic gems like Withnail and I and trendy little numbers like Lock Stock then that’s some achievement.
Bankrolled by ex-Beatle George Harrison, it’s also now the only Python material that really stands up – partly because it relies not on killer lines, cross-dressing or physical comedy (though they’re all there) but on real comic imagination: the political in-fighting of the Liberation Front of Judea; the graffitist with no grasp of grammar; the lisping campness of mighty Pontius Pilate and best of all – “What did the Romans ever do for us?”. Or do I mean the song “Always look on the bright side of life”. Or the misheard Sermon on the Mount (“Blessed are the cheesemakers?!”). You decide.
© Steve Morrissey 2001