Alternative Christmas Movies: Monty Python’s Life of Brian [1979]

At the time of release, Monty Python’s religious satire was deemed highly controversial; some religious groups classed the movie as blasphemy and protests to ban the film saw many authorities ban it from cinemas or demand it carried an X certificate. So, what better time than Christmas to give this comedy classic a sorely needed rewatch.

Even now, many religious groups deem this movie blasphemous. It goes without saying that the Pythons were a bunch of well-educated lads; there is never any mockery made of Jesus or his teachings, in fact, on the two occasions we do actually see JC, he’s not the butt of any jokes and is treated with respect. Some will unjustly label their brand of comedy as silly or offensive, but there was always a sense of intelligence surrounding everything they did, and yes, that includes all those funny walks.

The idea behind the Pythons third film was born out of a stock answer they gave reporters who asked them what their next project would be. When quizzed, the Python standard response would be “Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory,” they soon discovered this shut the press up, but after years of saying it, they started to consider it for the basis of a movie.

Brian Cohen is just your average sort of guy who wants a peaceful life but soon finds his life turned upside down after he is repeatedly mistaken for a prophet. Despite his own protests that he is not the son of God, he ends up becoming a reluctant Messiah. The Pythons were no strangers to making religious satire, medieval Christian philosophy was spoofed in their earlier film The Holy Grail, and numerous sketches in their TV series would skate around the subject matter. There was always going to be backlash from making the film; it’s fair to assume that they weren’t expecting quite the level of hatred and anger they received, but they handled the situation in true Python fashion.

The infamous debate on “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” saw John Cleese and Michael Palin try to defend the movie and set the record straight. Broadcaster and noted Christian Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood (Bishop of Southwark) watched the movie and gave their frank and honest opinions. Cleese and Palin fight their corner eloquently and attempt to make it clear that they were lampooning religious attitudes and not religion itself. If you have a spare 60 minutes, it’s well worth a watch.

A few years ago the BBC made a cute little TV movie called Holly Flying Circus, which told the story surrounding the release of Life of Brain and the lead up to the debate, which includes a brief reenactment of a key part of the discussion. If you have the time it is well worth seeking out. The Life of Brian might not seem like an overly suitable film for Christmas, but it’s the Pythons got to making a festive movie and Christmas just wouldn’t be the same with a portion of Monty Python.

★★★★

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