When the British comedy group Monty Python released its second feature film "Monty Python's Life of Brian" in 1979, the film was met with outcries that the film was blasphemous. This resulted in the flick received the dreaded X certificate (equal to an MPAA R rating), thus limiting the audience who could see it.
However, "Life of Brian" went on to become the fourth-highest grossing motion picture in the United Kingdom and the top British film in the U.S. that year.
In addition to all the protests and calls for it to be banned, one of the most significant things to come about during all the hubbub was a debate Python members John Cleese and Michael Palin participated in just after the film's release.
The debate pitted the Python duo against journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark, who argued of the flick's blasphemous intent -- although they arrived 15 minutes late to the screening of "Life of Brian" and missed the scenes establishing Brian (played by Eric Idle) and Jesus (played by Kenneth Colley) as two entirely different characters.
The debate served as the creative spark behind the BBC television comedy film "Holy Flying Circus," which reimagines the behind the scenes action before the release of "Life of Brian" leading up to the debate.
"Holy Flying Circus" is characterized as a "Pythonesque dramatization" of the events and rightfully so. Instead of taking a dull documentary approach to telling the story, director Owen Harris and writer Tony Roche present a documentary in the style and sensibilities of Monty Python. The result is an insanely hilarious 90-minute of film.
The Python's are well represented. Cleese is portrayed perfectly by Darren Boyd, with Charles Edwards taking on the role of Palin. Steven Punt stars as Idle, with Rufus Jones starring as Terry Jones, Tom Fisher as Graham Chapman and Phil Nichol as Terre Gilliam.
Because of the style in which the film is presented, there never seems to be a dull moment throughout the flick. Even when scenes are setting up other scenes, there's enough going on in the background to keep you entertained and satisfied.
I was very impressed by Boyd's take on Cleese, as well as Punt and Rufus Jones as Idle and Terry Jones, respectively. Fisher as Chapman did a fine job, as did Edwards as Palin. The only portrayal that really bothered me was that of Nichol's as Gilliam.
As a lifelong Gilliam fan, I respect the man as an artist and as a creative genius. Nichol's performance is more of a caricature of Gilliam that anything else, and it takes away from what he brought to the Pythons.
Here he's shown in limited scenes, and when he is on screen, he has nothing to do or is involved in scenes that play at 100 times the speed of what they should be. I'm sure that's the way Gilliam's antics might have felt to those around him, going 100 times faster than anyone else, but in "Holy Flying Circus" it comes off an unbelievable and silly -- and not in a good way.
If you like Monty Python, as I do, this will be a very funny watch. If your don't, it could be a little rough. Watching the Pythons isn't for everyone and neither is this film.
As a lover of Python, there's actually a "Pillar of Python" next to my desk with sheets from a yearly calendar taped to it that reaches from floor to ceiling, this film does a lot of things right.
You get to see the personas of each of the Pythons in action (some better than others) and get some knowledge of how hard people worked to keep "Life of Brian" off the big screen.
"Holy Flying Circus" was released on Sept. 4 from Acorn Media in a Blu-ray/DVD pack. In addition to the film, there are bonus features that include outtakes, deleted scenes and a making of featurette. The outtakes run a little long and some parts drag because little is happening.
On the other hand, the featurette is way too short. I was hoping for a little more, possibly the actors talking about portraying such comedic heavyweights as Cleese, Palin and Idle, but alas, it's not there.
Final Cut: If you are a Monty Python fan, you should definitely check out "Holy Flying Circus." With great performances from Boyd, Jones and Punt, this hilarious docudrama is well worth your time.
4 out of 5 stars
Holy Flying Circus
Starring: Darren Boyd, Charles Edwards, Steven Punt, Rufus Jones, Tom Fisher, Phil Nichol
Director: Owen Harris
Writer: Tony Roche
Running time: 90 minutes