Had to write a short post on the BBC4 drama Holy Flying Circus which aired this week, it was a mostly marvellous 90 minutes of real Pythonesque homage. It followed the life of the Pythons around the time that Life of Brian was released in the cinema (1979), the TV ‘debate’ between Cleese and Palin v Muggeridge and a bishop that made TV history for its time, and the battle to get the film off the screen.
I was a student at Imperial College in South Kensington in 1979. Wandering into the Union Bar one lunchtime, there were tickets being waved around to go and see a free screening of a new film. I went with my then boyfriend.
The screening was in the basement cinema of one of the film distributors in Soho. There were beanbags all over the floor for the student audience to sit on, and a row of comfy armchairs further back.
So we all slobbed around in the beanbags, and waited for the film to start. Within seconds we sat up to attention, then fell about laughing for the next hour and a half or so. The film we saw was the uncut and not quite finished version of Life of Brian – it was hilarious – scandalously funny. All Python fans to start off with, we couldn’t believe our luck, especially when we glanced behind and saw that the row of armchairs were now occupied by the entire Python team (Cleese excepted). Palin documents the screening in the first volume of his diaries – making me almost feel that I’m in there!
There were a few changes in the final film. The title animation hadn’t been added – instead the titles read ‘A title’, ‘Another Title’ Another F***ing title’ – echoing the short film about Gondolas that had accompanied Holy Grail. This got us off to a good start. A couple of scenes were cut; the soundtrack hadn’t been finished, but it was so fresh and funny. What a great evening!
Now of course, with some maturity behind me, I can see the serious points beyond the comedy about freedom of speech and individuality. This was the key theme of the TV drama too. Holy Flying Circus was very cleverly done, using all of the Python’s tricks, surreal tricks and full of references to the film itself, but in an updated sort of way that if the Pythons were still together they would do themselves, including animations and fantasy sequences.
Not all of the jokes worked – much like the original Python shows, but it was very engaging, chucklesome and wonderfully nostalgic. I’m sure they’ll show it again (and again, and again) if you missed it.
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To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Monty Python’s Life of Brian – The Immaculate Edition [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years 1969-1979 by Michael Palin