The BBC is to screen a dramatisation of the controversy surrounding the release of Monty Python’s brilliant film The Life Of Brian.
Back in 1979 the film caused fury in religious circles, with many claiming that it mocked Jesus. Church leaders in the US and the UK protested and the film was banned in several countries, including Ireland and Norway, as well as by several local authorities in the UK.
The main character in the film is Brian Cohen, who was born in Bethlehem and mistaken for Jesus. He is crucified at the end of the film, memorably singing “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.”
Many of the critics did not seem to acknowledge that Brian and Jesus are actually two different characters. After all, as any Python fan will tell you, “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.”
Holy Flying Circus will air this autumn on BBC4 and the ninety minute programme aims to use the Life of Brian controversy to explore the subject of free speech.
“Holy Flying Circus is not a biopic, but a fantastical reimagining of the Pythons’ struggle with censorship in the runup to the release of Life of Brian,” said a BBC spokesperson. The drama will incorporate “surreal cutaways” including puppetry and animation, according to the BBC.
The programme will lead up to the famous TV debate where Pythons John Cleese and Michael Palin defended the film against journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood.
Co-producer Kate Norrish said, “Holy Flying Circus takes a moment from our recent past to shed light on the present. When Palin and Cleese were called to defend Life of Brian, they were fighting not just for the future of their film but for their artistic credibility. It was a moment when freedom of speech was pitted against religious belief and is a debate that is just as precariously balanced today.”
Satire is an art form that deserves protection against those who seek to censor views that they happen not to agree with. And The Life Of Brian is a quite superb film, routinely featuring high on lists of the best ever made.
I hope that this new programme is both accurate and entertaining.