Comedies often end up offending people and gaining adverse reactions and publicity. However, this backlash and infamy were God-sent (pun intended) for the 1979 Terry Jones British comedy, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Although banned for being “blasphemous” in certain regions upon release, this notorious religious satire is now streaming on Netflix.
It was written by a hilarious comedy group called the Monty Python, who considered themselves Britain’s bad boys. The group comprised Graham Chapman, Jones, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin and Eric Idle and propelled themselves on the winds of absurdist comedy.
Following the success of their 1975 British feature film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was a hilarious dissection of Arthurian legend, Idle joked about their following project being a mockery of Jesus Christ’s teachings, naming it Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory. However, according to Palin, “there was very little to ridicule in Jesus’ life” which made them move “onto a loser”.
The 1979 film was written by the group and revolved around an everyman character named Brian, who was initially supposed to be the 13th disciple who never made it into the Bible, for he was always a few minutes late to every important event and missed witnessing the miracles. However, they soon stumbled upon a better idea that turned into this timeless comedy.
Brian is born in a Roman-occupied Judea right next to Jesus and is mistaken by the three wise yet disillusioned men to be the Messiah. Thus begins his fateful journey of mistaken identities where he is considered a Messiah by the fanatical masses who parrot his sayings.
Instead of targeting Jesus and his sermons, the film was a scathing satire on the religious fanaticism of the masses, the tyrannical oppression, the appeal of attacking people and the naivete of the crowd.
However, two days before the filming schedule, the then-production company EMI films backed out of the project. A massive Monty Python fan and the former Beatle, George Harrison stepped in as a near-Messianic figure with $4.1million to fund the film, grabbing “the most expensive cinema ticket” in his favour.
After the film was released, it was a box office success but led to massive chaos throughout the religious communities. When asked about the adverse reaction, Gilliam profoundly answered, “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.”
From being termed “a foul, disgusting, blasphemous film” by the President of the Rabbinical Alliance in the US to being banned in Ireland and Norway, the film led to picketers protesting in New York. In Britain, a lot of theatres banned it as well. However, nothing could stop the film from being one of the greatest comedies of all time and a massive success in viewership ratings.
Audacious and controversial yet hilarious, watch this banned British comedy on Netflix now.