Holy Flying Circus Review: Bringing Brian To Life

HOLY FLYING CIRCUS: Wednesday 19th October, BBC4, 9pm

In 1979, Monty Python’s Life of Brian was shrouded in controversy. 32 years later, BBC Four’s film Holy Flying Circus opens with a caricature of Jesus speaking Aramaic and then letting loose a massive fart directly into someone’s face. Oh, how far we have come.

This opening scene is an important one, not just because it shows what comedians can get away with these days, but also because it announces that most of the events in the following film are made up.

This is key, as the “fantastical re-imaginingâ€? focuses on the days leading up to the infamous Friday Night, Saturday Morning debate, which pitted Monty Python’s Michael Palin and John Cleese against the Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge in defence of their film.

If it weren’t for the helpful Jesus, you could easily assume most of the drama’s events really happened, but this is not the case. The truth is, this film is riddled with historical inaccuracies and exaggerations, leaving it somewhere between complete fabrication and humorous recreation.

The portrayals of the Monty Python team are very well done, with a particularly convincing Eric Idle and the film is full of fitting homages throughout. There’s plenty of cross-dressing, Gilliam-esque animations and of course, full-frontal male nudity. The original Pythons, however, are not amused. Terry Gilliam told The Independent that he had no involvement and that “some in the group thought it was a bad idea.â€? Michael Palin did not want anything to do with the film and John Cleese is reportedly “disappointedâ€? because the film is “full of inaccuracies.â€? Although Cleese had offered to help with the project, he was never consulted.

The film may not rely on an accurate presentation of the facts, but writer Tony Roche (The Thick Of It) gets the tone right. The film focuses on Michael Palin, labeled as the “nicest man in the worldâ€? and his ability to keep a positive attitude despite the public’s reaction to Life of Brian. Comedy’s ability to make light of what people take too seriously is its greatest service and the controversy surrounding Monty Python illustrates this beautifully. Holy Flying Circus begins and ends with the message that even though people will always find a way to be offended by satire it is the necessary role of comedians to poke fun at the world.