Monty Python's Life of Brian

Monty Python's Life of Brian
Monty Python's Life of Brian
Directed by Terry Jones
Produced by John Goldstone
George Harrison
Denis O'Brien
Written by Monty Python
Starring Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Music by Geoffrey Burgon
Cinematography Peter Biziou
Editing by Julian Doyle
Studio HandMade Films
Distributed by Orion Pictures thru Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) August 17, 1979 (1979-08-17)
Running time 94 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $4 million[1]
Box office $20,045,115[2]

Monty Python's Life of Brian, also known as Life of Brian, is a 1979 British comedy film written, directed and largely performed by the Monty Python comedy team. It tells the story of Brian Cohen (played by Graham Chapman), a young Jewish man who is born on the same day as, and next door to, Jesus Christ, and is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah.

The film contains themes of religious satire that were controversial at the time of its release, drawing accusations of blasphemy and protests from some religious groups. Thirty-nine local authorities in the UK either imposed an outright ban, or imposed an X (18 years) certificate (effectively preventing the film from being shown, as the distributors said the film could not be shown unless it was unedited and carried the original AA (14) certificate). Some countries, including Ireland and Norway, banned its showing, with a few of these bans lasting decades. The film makers used such notoriety to benefit their marketing campaign, with posters stating "So funny it was banned in Norway!".

The film was a box-office success, grossing fourth-highest of any film in the UK in 1979 and highest of any British film in the United States that year. It has remained popular since then, receiving positive reviews and being named "greatest comedy film of all time" by several magazines and television networks. The film is the first Monty Python film to receive an R rating[3] in the United States.



Brian Cohen is born in a stable a few doors from the one in which Jesus is born, which initially confuses the three wise men who come to praise the future King of the Jews. Brian grows up an idealistic young man who resents the continuing Roman occupation of Judea. While attending Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Brian becomes infatuated with an attractive young rebel, Judith. His desire for her and hatred for the Romans lead him to join the People's Front of Judea (PFJ), one of many fractious and bickering independence movements, who spend more time fighting each other than the Romans.

After several misadventures, and escaping from Pontius Pilate, the fugitive winds up in a lineup of would-be mystics and prophets who harangue the passing crowd in a plaza. Forced to come up with something plausible in order to blend in and keep the guards off his back, Brian babbles pseudo-religious truisms, and quickly attracts a small but intrigued audience. Once the guards have left, Brian tries to put the episode behind him, but he has unintentionally inspired a movement. He grows frantic when he finds that some people have started to follow him around, with even the slightest unusual occurrence being hailed as a "miracle". After slipping away from the mob, Brian runs into Judith, and they spend the night together. In the morning, Brian opens the curtains to discover an enormous mass of people outside his mother's house, all proclaiming him the Messiah (Brian's mother, loudly protests: "He's not the Messiah he's a very naughty boy"). Appalled, Brian is helpless to change their minds, for his every word and action are immediately seized as points of doctrine.

Neither can the hapless Brian find solace back at the PFJ's headquarters, where people fling their afflicted bodies at him demanding miracle cures. After sneaking out the back, Brian finally is captured and scheduled to be crucified. Meanwhile, a huge crowd has assembled outside the palace. Pilate (together with the visiting Biggus Dickus) tries to quell the feeling of revolution by granting them the decision of who should be pardoned. The crowd, however, simply shouts out names containing the letter "R", in order to mock Pilate's mispronunciation. Eventually, Judith appears in the crowd and calls for the release of Brian, which the crowd echoes, since the name contains the letter "R". Pilate then agrees to "welease Bwian".

The order from Pilate is eventually relayed to the guards, but in a moment parodying the climax of the film Spartacus, various crucified people all claim to be "Brian of Nazareth" (one man shouting "I'm Brian and so's my wife") and the wrong man is released. Various other opportunities for a reprieve for Brian are denied as, one by one, his "allies" (including Judith and his mother) step forward to explain why they are leaving the "noble freedom fighter" hanging in the hot sun. Hope is renewed when the Judean People's Front come charging towards the Romans, but fail to rescue Brian, as they are a suicide squadron, and kill themselves rather than dying in battle. Condemned to a long and painful death, Brian finds his spirits lifted by his fellow sufferers, who break into song with "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life".[4]


A list of all the characters given actual names in the script, or with a spoken role. All names and character descriptions are taken from the published script.[5] Each Python (especially Terry Gilliam) also played various bystanders and hangers-on. The Pythons themselves are listed first (in alphabetical order) followed by the rest of the cast in order of appearance.

Chapman as Brian Cohen in Life of Brian
  • Graham Chapman – Brian, Biggus Dickus, 2nd wise man
  • John Cleese – Reg, the High priest, Centurion of the Yard, Deadly Dirk, Arthur, 1st wise man
  • Terry Gilliam – Another person further forward (at Mount – "Do you hear that? 'Blessed are the Greek'!"), Blood and Thunder prophet, Geoffrey, Gaoler, Frank
  • Eric Idle – Mr Cheeky, Stan/Loretta, Harry the Haggler, Culprit woman who casts first stone, Intensely dull youth, Otto, Gaoler's assistant, Mr Frisbee III.
  • Terry Jones – Mandy, Colin, Simon the Holy Man, Saintly passer-by, Bob Hoskins (man in crowd)
  • Michael Palin – Mr Big Nose, Francis, Mrs A, Ex-leper, Ben, Pontius Pilate, Boring Prophet, Eddie, Nisus Wettus, 3rd wise man
  • Kenneth Colley – Jesus Christ
  • Neil Innes – A weedy Samaritan
  • Gwen Taylor – Mrs Big Nose, Woman with sick donkey, young girl
  • Terence Baylor – Gregory, Dennis
  • Carol Cleveland – Mrs Gregory, Elsie
  • Charles McKeown – Man further forward (at Mount), Stig, Blind Man, False Prophet, Giggling Guard
  • Sue Jones-Davies – Judith Iscariot
  • John Young – Matthias
  • Bernard McKenna – Stoner's Helper, Parvus
  • Spike Milligan – Spike
  • George Harrison – Mr Papadopoulos (uncredited)

Several characters are never named during the film but do have names that are used in the tracklisting for the soundtrack album and elsewhere. There is no mention in the film of the fact that Eric Idle's ever-cheerful joker is called 'Mr. Cheeky', or that the Roman guard played by Michael Palin is named 'Nisus Wettus'.

Spike Milligan had an unplanned cameo as a prophet ignored because his acolytes are chasing after Brian. By coincidence he was visiting his old World War II battlefields in Tunisia where the film was being made. The Pythons were alerted to this one morning and he was promptly included in the scene that just happened to be being filmed. He disappeared again in the afternoon before he could be included in any of the close-up or publicity shots for the film.[6]


A cameo appearance by Executive Producer George Harrison (right)

There are various stories about the origins of Life of Brian. Shortly after the release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Eric Idle flippantly suggested that the title of the Pythons' forthcoming feature would be Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory (a play on the UK title for the 1970 American film Patton).[7] This was after he had become frustrated at repeatedly being asked what it would be called, despite the troupe not having given the matter of a third film any consideration. However, they shared a distrust of organised religion, and, after witnessing the critically acclaimed Holy Grail's enormous financial turnover, confirming an appetite among the fans for more cinematic endeavours, they soon began to seriously consider a film lampooning the New Testament era in the same way Holy Grail had lampooned Arthurian legend. All they needed was an idea for a plot. Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, while promoting Holy Grail in Amsterdam, had come up with a sketch in which Jesus' cross was falling apart because of the idiotic carpenters who built it and he angrily tells them how to do it correctly. However, after an early brainstorming stage, and despite being non-believers, they agreed that Jesus was "definitely a good guy" and found nothing to mock in his actual teachings: "He's not particularly funny, what he's saying isn't mockable, it's very decent stuff..." said Idle later.[8] After settling on the name Brian for their new protagonist, one idea considered was that of "the 13th disciple".[7] The focus eventually shifted to a separate individual born at a similar time and location, who would be mistaken for the Messiah, but had no desire to be followed as such.

Writing began in December 1976, with a first draft completed by mid-1977. The final pre-production draft was ready in January 1978, following "a concentrated two-week writing and water-skiing period in Barbados".[9] The film would not have been made without former Beatle and Python fan George Harrison, who set up Handmade Films to help fund it at a cost of £3 million (a move later described by Eric Idle as the "world's most expensive cinema ticket"). The original backers, EMI Films, had been scared off at the last minute by the subject matter, particularly Bernard Delfont.[7] As a result, the very last words in the film are: "I said to him, 'Bernie, they'll never make their money back on this one'", teasing Delfont for his lack of faith in the project. Terry Gilliam later said, "They pulled out on the Thursday. The crew was supposed to be leaving on the Saturday. Disastrous. It was because they read the script... finally."[10] As a reward for his help, Harrison appears in a cameo appearance as Mr. Papadopoulos, "owner of the Mount", who briefly shakes hands with Brian in a crowd scene. His one word of dialogue (a cheery Scouse, but out-of-place-in-Judea, "ullo") had to be dubbed in later.

Directing duties were handled solely by Terry Jones on this project, having amicably agreed with Gilliam (who co-directed Holy Grail) that Jones' approach to film-making was better suited for Python's general performing style.[citation needed] Holy Grail's production had often been stilted by their differences behind the camera. Gilliam again contributed two animated sequences (one being the opening credits) and took charge of set design. However, this did not put an absolute end to their feuding. On the DVD commentary, Gilliam expresses great pride in one set in particular, the main hall of Pilate's fortress, which had been designed so that it accurately looked like an old Judean temple that the Romans had converted by dumping their structural artifacts (such as marble floors and columns) on top. He later reveals his consternation at Jones not paying enough attention to it in the cinematography. Gilliam also worked on the matte paintings, useful in particular for the very first shot of the three wise men against a starscape and in giving the illusion of the whole of the outside of the fortress being covered in graffiti. Perhaps the most significant contribution from Gilliam was the scene where Brian accidentally leaps off a high building and inadvertently lands inside a starship about to engage in an interstellar war. This was done "in camera" using a hand-built model starship and miniature pyrotechnics; clearly this was influenced by the epic film Star Wars. Afterwards, George Lucas met Terry Gilliam in San Francisco and praised Gilliam for his work.

The film was shot on location in Monastir, Tunisia, which allowed the production to reuse sets from Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth (1977).[11] Many locals were employed as extras on Life of Brian. Director Terry Jones noted, "They were all very knowing because they'd all worked for Franco Zeffirelli on Jesus of Nazareth, so I had these elderly Tunisians telling me, 'Well, Mr Zeffirelli wouldn't have done it like that, you know.'"[10] Further location shooting took place in Sousse (Jerusalem outer walls and gateway), Carthage (Roman amphitheatre) and Matmata, Tunisia (Sermon on the Mount and Crucifixion).[12] Graham Chapman, still suffering from alcoholism, was so determined to play the lead role – at one point coveted by Cleese – that he dried out in time for filming, so much so that he was also able to act as the on-set doctor on top of his acting duties.[6] Following shooting between 16 September and 12 November 1978,[9] a two-hour-long rough cut of the film was put together for its first private showing in January 1979. Over the next few months Life of Brian was re-edited and re-screened a number of times for different preview audiences before the final cut was complete, losing a number of entire filmed sequences (see Lost scenes below).[7]

Religious satire and blasphemy accusations

Richard Webster comments that, "internalised censorship played a significant role in the handling" of Monty Python's Life of Brian. In his view, "As a satire on religion, this film might well be considered a rather slight production. As blasphemy it was, even in its original version, extremely mild. Yet the film was surrounded from its inception by intense anxiety, in some quarters of the Establishment, about the offence it might cause. As a result it gained a certificate for general release only after some cuts had been made. Perhaps more importantly still, the film was shunned by the BBC and ITV, who declined to show it for fear of offending Christians in this country. Once again a blasphemy was restrained - or its circulation effectively curtailed - not by the force of law but by the internalisation of this law."[13] However, on its initial release in the UK, the film was banned by several town councils – some of which had no cinemas within their boundaries, or had not even seen the film for themselves. A member of Harrogate council, one of those that banned the film, revealed during a television interview that the council had not seen the film, and had based their opinion on what they had been told by the Nationwide Festival of Light, of which they knew nothing.[6]

Some bans continued into the 21st century. In 2008, Torbay Council finally permitted the film to be shown after it won an online vote for the English Riviera International Comedy Film Festival,[14] In 2009, it was announced that a thirty-year old ban of the film in the Welsh town of Aberystwyth was finally lifted, and the subsequent showing was attended by Terry Jones and Michael Palin alongside mayor Sue Jones-Davies (who portrayed Judith Iscariot in the film).[15][16] However, before the showing, an Aberystwyth University student discovered that the film had never been banned in Aberystwyth, but was shown (or was scheduled to be shown) at a cinema in the town in 1981.[17][18]

In New York, screenings were picketed by both rabbis and nuns ("Nuns with banners!" observed Michael Palin).[8] It was also banned for eight years in Ireland and for a year in Norway (it was marketed in Sweden as '"The film so funny that it was banned in Norway").[19]

In the UK, Mary Whitehouse and other campaigners launched waves of leaflets and picketed at and around cinemas that showed the film, a move that was only felt to have ironically boosted the publicity.[20] Leaflets arguing against the film's representation of the New Testament (for example, suggesting that the Wise Men would not have approached the wrong stable as they do in the opening of the film) were documented in Robert Hewison's book Monty Python: The Case Against.

One of the most controversial scenes was the film's ending: Brian's crucifixion. Many Christian protesters said that it was mocking Jesus's suffering by turning it into a "Jolly Boys Outing" (such as when Mr Cheeky turns to Brian and says: "See, not so bad once you're up!"), capped by Brian's fellow sufferers suddenly bursting into song. This is also reinforced by the fact that several characters throughout the film claim crucifixion is not as bad as it seems, such as when Brian asks his cellmate in prison what will happen to him, he replies; "Oh, you'll probably get away with crucifixion." and when Matthias, the old man who works with the PFJ dismisses crucifixion as "a doddle" and says being stabbed would be worse. The director, Terry Jones, issued the following riposte to this criticism: "Any religion that makes a form of torture into an icon that they worship seems to me a pretty sick sort of religion quite honestly".[6]

Another argument was that crucifixion was a standard form of execution in ancient times and not just one especially reserved for Jesus.[21] The Pythons often prided themselves on the depths of the historical research they had taken before writing the script. They all believe that, as a consequence, the film portrays 1st century Judea more accurately than actual Biblical epics, with its focus centred more on the average person of the era.

Shortly after the film was released, Cleese and Palin engaged in a what would become a notorious debate on the BBC2 discussion programme Friday Night, Saturday Morning, in which Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark, put the case against the film. Muggeridge and the Bishop had arrived 15 minutes late to see a screening of the picture prior to the debate, missing the establishing scenes demonstrating that Brian and Jesus were two different characters, and hence contended that it was a send-up of Christ himself.[8] Both Pythons later felt that there had been a strange role reversal in the manner of the debate, with two young upstart comedians attempting to make serious, well-researched points, while the establishment figures engaged in cheap jibes and point scoring. They also expressed disappointment in Muggeridge, whom all in Python had previously respected as a satirist. Cleese expressed that his reputation had "plummeted" in his eyes, while Palin commented that, "He was just being Muggeridge, preferring to have a very strong contrary opinion as opposed to none at all".[8] Muggeridge's verdict on the film (or at least, what he'd seen of it) was that it was "Such a tenth-rate film that it couldn't possibly destroy anyone's genuine faith".

The Pythons unanimously deny that they were ever out to destroy people's faith. On the DVD audio commentary, they contend that the film is heretical because it lampoons the practices of modern organised religion, but that it does not blasphemously lampoon the God that Christians and Jews worship. When Jesus does appear in the film (on the Mount, speaking the Beatitudes), he is played straight (by actor Kenneth Colley) and portrayed with respect. The music and lighting make it clear that there is a genuine aura around him. The comedy begins when members of the crowd mishear his statements of peace, love and tolerance ("I think he said, 'blessed are the cheese makers'"). Importantly, he is distinct from the character of Brian, which is also evident in the scene where an annoying and ungrateful ex-leper pesters Brian for money, while moaning that since Jesus cured him, he has lost his source of income in the begging trade (referring to Jesus as a "bloody do-gooder").

Not all the Pythons agree on the definition of the movie's tone. There was a brief exchange that occurred when the surviving members reunited in Aspen, Colorado, in 1998 for a show that was broadcast on HBO and has since become available on video. The appearance was billed as the "U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Tribute to Monty Python", although video releases have gone by varying titles, including "Monty Python Live at Aspen (1998)". The programme mostly consists of an interview, on stage, by U.S. comedian Robert Klein. In the section where Life of Brian is being discussed, Terry Jones says, "I think the film is heretical, but it’s not blasphemous". Eric Idle can be heard to concur, adding, "It’s a heresy". However, John Cleese, disagreeing, counters, "I don’t think it’s a heresy. It's making fun of the way that people misunderstand the teaching". Jones responds, "Of course it's a heresy, John! It's attacking the Church! And that has to be heretical". Cleese replies, "No, it's not attacking the Church, necessarily. It's about people who cannot agree with each other".

In a later interview Jones said the film “isn’t blasphemous because it doesn’t touch on belief at all. It is heretical, because it touches on dogma and the interpretation of belief, rather than belief itself.”[22]

The film continues to cause controversy; in February 2007 the Church of St Thomas the Martyr in Newcastle upon Tyne held a public screening in the church itself, with song-sheets, organ accompaniment, stewards in costume and false beards for female members of the audience (alluding to an early scene where a group of women disguise themselves as men so that they are able to take part in a stoning). Although the screening was a sell-out, some Christian groups, notably the conservative Christian Voice, were highly critical of the decision to allow the screening to go ahead. The Rev'd Jonathan Adams, one of the church's clergy, defended his taste in comedy, saying that it did not mock Jesus, and that it raised important issues about the hypocrisy and stupidity that can affect religion. However Stephen Green, the head of Christian Voice, insisted that "You don't promote Christ to the community by taking the mick out of him".[23] Again on the film's DVD commentary, Cleese also spoke up for religious people who have come forward and congratulated him and his colleagues on the film's highlighting of double standards among purported followers of their own faith.[8]

Political satire

The film pokes fun at revolutionary groups and 1970s British left-wing politics. "What the film does do is place modern stereotypes in a historical setting, which enables it to indulge in a number of sharp digs, particularly at trade unionists and guerilla organisations".[24] The groups in the film all oppose the Roman occupation of Judea, but fall into the familiar pattern of intense competition among factions that appears, to an outsider, to be over ideological distinctions so small as to be invisible; "ideological purity", as Cleese once described it. Michael Palin says that the various separatist movements were modelled on "modern resistance groups, all with obscure acronyms which they can never remember and their conflicting agendas".[25]

The People's Front of Judea, composed of the Pythons' characters, harangue their "rivals" with cries of "splitters" and stand vehemently opposed to the Judean People's Front, the Judean Popular People's Front, the Campaign for a Free Galilee, and the Popular Front of Judea (the last composed of a single old man, mocking the size of real revolutionary Trotskyist factions). The infighting among revolutionary organisations is demonstrated most dramatically when the PFJ attempts to kidnap Pontius Pilate's wife, but encounters agents of the Campaign for a Free Galilee, and the two factions begin a violent brawl over which of them conceived of the plan first. When Brian exhorts them to cease their fighting to struggle "against the common enemy," the revolutionaries stop and cry in unison, "the Judean People's Front!" However, they soon resume their fighting and, with two Roman legionnaires watching bemusedly, continue until Brian is left the only survivor, at which point he is captured.

Other scenes have the freedom fighters wasting time in debate, with one of the debated items being that they should not waste their time debating so much. There is also a famous scene in which Reg gives a revolutionary speech asking, "What have the Romans ever done for us?" at which point the listeners outline all forms of positive aspects of the Roman occupation such as sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, public health and peace, followed by "what have the Romans ever done for us except sanitation, medicine, education...". This joke is "the reverse"[26] of a similar conversation recorded in the Babylonian Talmud.[27] Python biographer George Perry notes, "The People's Liberation Front of Judea conducts its meetings as though they have been convened by a group of shop stewards".[28]

Lost scenes

A number of scenes were cut from the movie after filming. Most of these were "lost" in 1998 when they were destroyed by the company that bought Handmade Films. However, a number of them (of varying quality) were shown the following year on the Paramount Comedy Channel in the UK; it has not been disclosed how these scenes were saved or where they came from. The scenes shown included the shepherds gathering for Jesus's birth, which would have been at the very start of the movie; a segment showing the kidnap of Pilate's wife (a huge mountain of a woman played by John Case); a scene introducing hardline Zionist Otto, leader of the Judean People's Front (played by Eric Idle); and a scene in which Pilate's wife alerts Otto to Brian's capture. The shepherds' scene has badly distorted sound, and the kidnap scene has poor colour quality.[29] All of these scenes can now be found on the Criterion Collection DVD.

The most controversial cuts were the scenes involving Otto, initially a recurring character, who had a thin Adolf Hitler-esque moustache and spoke with a German accent, shouting accusations of "racial impurity" at people whose conceptions were similar to Brian's (Roman centurion rape of native Judean women), and other Nazi-based phrases. The logo of the Judean People's Front, designed by Terry Gilliam, was a Star of David with a small line added to each point so it resembled a swastika, most familiar in the West as the symbol of the anti-Semitic Nazi movement. The rest of this faction also all had the same thin moustaches, and wore a spike on their helmets, similar to those on WWI era German helmets. The official reason for the cutting was that Otto's dialogue slowed down the narrative. However, Gilliam, writing in The Pythons Autobiography by The Pythons, said he thought it should have stayed, saying "Listen, we've alienated the Christians, let's get the Jews now". Idle himself was said to have been uncomfortable with the character; "It's essentially a pretty savage attack on rabid Zionism, suggesting it's rather akin to Nazism, which is a bit strong to take, but certainly a point of view".[8] Michael Palin's personal journal entries from the period when various edits of Brian were being test-screened consistently reference the Pythons' and filmmakers' concerns that the Otto scenes were slowing the story down and thus were top of the list to be chopped from the final cut of the film.[30] However, Oxford Brookes University historian David Nash says the removal of the scene represented "a form of self-censorship" and the Otto sequence "which involved a character representative of extreme forms of Zionism" was cut "in the interests of smoothing the way for the film's distribution in America."[31]

The only scene with Otto that remains in the film is during the crucifixion sequence. Otto arrives with his "crack suicide squad", sending the Roman soldiers fleeing in terror. Instead of doing anything useful, they "attack" by committing mass suicide in front of the cross ("Zat showed 'em, huh?" says the dying Otto, to which Brian despondently replies "You silly sods!"), ending Brian's hope of rescue. (They do however show some signs of life during the famous rendition of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" when they are seen waving their toes in unison in time to the music.) Terry Jones once mentioned that the only reason this excerpt was not cut too was due to continuity reasons, as their dead bodies were very prominently placed throughout the rest of the scene. He acknowledged that some of the humour of this sole remaining contribution was lost through the earlier edits, but felt they were necessary to the overall pacing.

Otto's scenes, and those with Pilate's wife, were cut from the film after the script had gone to the publishers, and so they can be found in the published version of the script. Also present is a scene where, after Brian has led the Fifth Legion to the headquarters of the People's Front of Judea, Reg (John Cleese) says "You cunt!! You stupid, bird-brained, flat-headed..."[32] The profanity was overdubbed to "you klutz" before the film was released. Cleese approved of this editing as he felt the reaction to the four-letter word would "get in the way of the comedy".[8]

An early listing of the sequence of sketches reprinted in Monty Python: The Case Against by Robert Hewison reveals that the film was to have begun with a set of sketches at an English public school. Much of this material was first printed in the "MONTYPYTHONSCRAPBOOK" that accompanied the original script publication of The Life of Brian and then subsequently reused. The song "All Things Dull and Ugly" and the parody scripture reading "Martyrdom of St. Victor" were performed on Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album (1980). The idea of a violent rugby match between school masters and small boys was filmed in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). A sketch about a boy who dies at school was released on the bootleg The Hastily Cobbled Together for a Fast Buck Album (1981).

Box office

For the original British and Australian releases, a spoof travelogue narrated by John Cleese Away From It All, was shown before the film itself. It consisted mostly of stock travelogue footage and featured arch comments from Cleese. For instance, a shot of Bulgarian girls in ceremonial dresses was accompanied by the comment "You'd never believe that these girls were plotting the downfall of Western Civilisation as we know it!", Communist Bulgaria being a member of the Warsaw Pact at the time. Not only was this a spoof of travelogues per se, it was a protest against the then-common practice in Britain of showing cheaply made banal short features before a main feature.

Life of Brian opened on 17 August 1979 in five North American theatres, and grossed $140,034 USD ($28,007 per screen) in its opening weekend. Its total gross was $19,398,164 USD. It was the highest-grossing British film in North America that year. In addition, the film was the fourth highest-grossing film in Britain in 1979.

On 30 April 2004, Life of Brian was re-released on five North American screens to "cash in" (as Terry Jones put it)[19] on the box office success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. It grossed $26,376 USD ($5,275 per screen) in its opening weekend. It ran until October 2004, playing at 28 screens at its widest point, eventually grossing $646,124 USD during its re-release. By comparison, a re-release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail had earned $1.8 million USD three years earlier. A DVD of the film was also released that year.


Life of Brian has regularly been cited as a serious contender for the title "greatest comedy film of all time", and has been named as such in polls conducted by Total Film magazine in 2000,[33] the British TV network Channel 4 in 2006[34] and The Guardian newspaper in 2007.[35] Rotten Tomatoes lists it as one of the best reviewed comedies, with a 98% approval rating from 44 published reviews. Internet Movie Database includes the film in its list of the top 250 movies of all time.[36] A 2011 poll by Time Out magazine ranked it as the third greatest comedy film ever made,[37] behind Airplane! and This is Spinal Tap.

The BFI declared Life of Brian to be the 28th best British film of all time, in their equivalent of the AFI's original 100 Years...100 Movies list. It was the seventh highest ranking comedy on this list (four of the better placed efforts were classic Ealing Films).[38] Another Channel 4 poll in 2001 named it the 23rd greatest film of all time (the only comedy that came higher on this occasion was Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, which was ranked 5th).[39]

The line, "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!", spoken by Brian's mother Mandy to the crowd assembled outside her house, has been voted by readers of the funniest line in film history.[40] This poll also featured two of the film's other famous lines ("What have the Romans ever done for us?" and "I'm Brian and so's my wife") in the top 10.


Spin-offs include a script-book The Life of Brian of Nazareth, which is backed by MONTYPYTHONSCRAPBOOK... (The printing of this book also caused problems, since there are rarely used technical laws in the UK against "blasphemy" dictating what can and cannot be written about religion – the publisher refused to print both halves of the book, and original prints were by two companies).[41]

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was later re-released with great success, after being sung by British football fans. Its popularity became truly evident in 1982 during the Falklands War when sailors aboard the destroyer HMS Sheffield, severely damaged in an Argentinean Exocet missile attack on 4 May, started singing it while awaiting rescue.[42][43]

Indeed, many people have come to see the song as a life-affirming ode to optimism. One of its more famous renditions was by the dignitaries of Manchester's bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games, just after they were awarded to Sydney. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" is also featured in Eric Idle's Spamalot, a Broadway musical based upon Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and was sung by the rest of the Monty Python group at Graham Chapman's memorial service and at the Monty Python Live At Aspen special.

The song is a staple at Iron Maiden concerts, where the recording is played after the final encore.

An album of the songs sung in Monty Python's Life of Brian has been released on the Disky label.

Julian Doyle, the film's editor, has written a book The Life of Brian/Jesus, which not only describes the filmmaking and editing process but argues that Monty Python's film is the most accurate Biblical film ever made.

In October 2008, a memoir by Kim "Howard" Johnson entitled Monty Python's Tunisian Holiday: My Life with Brian was released. Johnson became friendly with the Pythons during the filming of Life of Brian and his notes and memories of the behind-the-scenes filming and make-up.[44]

In October 2011, BBC Four premiered the made-for-TV comedy film Holy Flying Circus, written by Tony Roche and directed by Owen Harris. The "Pythonesque" film explored the events surrounding the 1979 television debate on talk show Friday Night, Saturday Morning between John Cleese and Michael Palin and Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the then Bishop of Southwark.[45]


With the success of Eric Idle's musical retelling of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, called Spamalot, Idle announced that he would be giving Life of Brian a similar treatment. The oratorio, called Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy), was commissioned to be part of the festival called Luminato in Toronto, Ontario, in June 2007, and was written/scored by Idle and John Du Prez, who also worked with Idle on Spamalot. Not the Messiah is a spoof of Handel's oratorio Messiah. It runs approximately 50 minutes, and was conducted at its World Premiere by Toronto Symphony Orchestra music director Peter Oundjian, who is Idle's cousin.[46]

Not the Messiah received its U.S. premiere at the Caramoor International Music Festival in Katonah, New York. Cousins Peter Oundjian (Caramoor's Artistic Advisor and Principal Conductor) and Eric Idle joined forces once again for a double performance of the oratorio in July 2007.[47]

Appearances in other media

In a Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch, a bishop who has made a scandalous film called The Life of Christ is hauled over the coals by a representative of the "Church of Python", claiming that the film is an attack on "Our Lord, John Cleese" and on the members of Python, who, in the sketch, are the objects of Britain's true religious faith. This was a parody of the infamous Friday Night, Saturday Morning programme, broadcast a week previously. The director of the film (played by Rowan Atkinson) claims that the reaction to the film has surprised him, as he "didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition."

"Talk Radio" host John Williams, of Chicago's WGN 720 AM, has used "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Life of Brian in a segment of his Friday shows. The segment is used to highlight good events from the past week in listeners' lives and to generally celebrate the end of the work week. In the 1997 Oscar winning film As Good as It Gets, the misanthropic character played by Jack Nicholson sings "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as evidence of the character's change in attitude.[48]

In the video game Fallout: New Vegas, you can find "Romanes Eunt Domus" written on a wall by graffiti on a building in Cottonwood Cove, property of the Roman-styled Caesar's Legion.

A BBC history series What the Romans Did for Us, written and presented by Adam Hart-Davis and first broadcast in 2000, takes its title from John Cleese's rhetorical question "What have the Romans ever done for us?" in one of the film's scenes. (Cleese himself parodied this line in a 1986 BBC advert defending the Television Licence Fee: "What has the BBC ever given us?")[49]

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his Prime Minister's Questions of 3 May 2006 made a shorthand reference to the types of political groups, "Judean People's Front" or "People's Front of Judea", lampooned in Life of Brian.[50][51] This was in response to a question from the MP David Clelland, asking "What has the Labour government ever done for us?" – itself a parody of John Cleese's "What have the Romans ever done for us?"

On New Year's Day 2007, and again on New Year's Eve, UK television station Channel 4 dedicated an entire evening to the Monty Python phenomenon during which an hour-long documentary was broadcast called The Secret Life of Brian about the making of The Life of Brian and the controversy that was caused by its release. The Pythons featured in the documentary and reflected upon the events that surrounded the film. This was followed by a screening of the film itself.[6] The documentary (in a slightly extended form) was one of the special features on the 2007 DVD re-release – the "Immaculate Edition", also the first Python release on Blu-Ray.

The alibi of the murderer in Simon Brett’s comic thriller Shock to the System (1984) depends on having been in a cinema watching Life of Brian.

The stoning scene is referenced in Terry Pratchett's second Discworld computer game. A clip of the stoning scene was shown in the music video "Yang Yang" by Anika in 2010.[52]

The scene in the ninth episode of 'South Park's fifteenth season, 'The Last of the Meheecans' where a naked Butters opens his window to find the townspeople in the street below hailing him as a god is a reference to the scene where the same thing happens to Brian.

See also


  1. ^ IMDB Business
  2. ^ Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "Reasons for Movie Ratings (CARA)". Motion Picture Association of America. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  4. ^ Alan Parker, Mick O'Shea (2006) And Now For Something Completely Digital: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Monty Python CDs and DVDs The Disinformation Company, 2006
  5. ^ Chapman, Graham; Cleese, John; Gilliam, Terry; Idle, Eric; Jones, Terry; Palin, Michael (1979). Monty Python's The Life of Brian/MONTYPYTHONSCRAPBOOKOFBRIANOFNAZARETH. London: Eyre Methuen. script p.3. ISBN 0-413-46550-0. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Channel 4 (1 January 2007). The Secret Life of Brian.
  7. ^ a b c d Wilmut, Roger (1980). From Fringe to Flying Circus. London: Eyre Methuen Ltd. pp. 247–250. ISBN 0-413-46950-6. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Chapman, Graham; Cleese, John; Gilliam, Terry; Idle, Eric; Jones, Terry; Palin, Michael; with McCabe, Bob (2003). The Pythons Autobiography by The Pythons. London: Orion Publishing Group. pp. 349–387. ISBN 0-7528-5293-0. 
  9. ^ a b Chapman, Graham; et al. (1979). Monty Python's The Life of Brian/MONTYPYTHONSCRAPBOOKOFBRIANOFNAZARETH. scrapbook p. 4. 
  10. ^ a b Sellers, Robert (28 March 2003). "Welease Bwian". The Guardian (UK).,12102,922904,00.html#article_continue. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (18 June 2004). "Monty Python's Life of Brian". Digital Chicago. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  12. ^ Michael Palin, Diaries: The Python Years, 1969–1979
  13. ^ Webster, Richard (1990). A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and 'The Satanic Verses'. Southwold: The Orwell Press. ISBN 0951592203. 
  14. ^ "Python movie 'ban' finally lifted". BBC News (BBC). 24 September 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2008. 
  15. ^ "Town ends Python film 30-year ban". BBC News. 27 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "Life of Brian still a huge draw". BBC News. 29 March 2009. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  17. ^ "Tickets sold out for Python film". BBC News (BBC). 2 March 2009. Retrieved 16 April 2008. 
  18. ^ "Monty Myth-on". BBC. 1 April 2009. Retrieved 16 April 2009. 
  19. ^ a b Lammers, Tim (17 May 2004). "Python's Jones Passionate About 'Life Of Brian's' Return". WNBC. Archived from the original on 27 March 2007. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  20. ^ Klein, Wayne. "Monty Python's Life of Brian-The Immaculate Edition (Blu-Ray)". Retrieved 6 September 2008. 
  21. ^ Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion, By David W. Chapman, p. 44. Mohr Siebeck, 2008. ISBN 3161495799
  22. ^ "Monty Python’s Life of Brian Movie Review". A Life At The Movies. 23 October 2010. 
  23. ^ "Strife of Brian". The Times (UK). 7 February 2007. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  24. ^ Wilmut, Roger (1980). From Fringe to Flying Circus. London: Eyre Methuen Ltd. p. 250
  25. ^ Michael Palin in Monty Python Speaks, ed. David Morgan, Fourth Estate, 1999
  26. ^ Rabbi Adam Chalom "Tragedy and Judgment – Shabbat 33"
  27. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 33. "R. Simeon b. Johai [sic] said: 'All these things they have instituted for their own sake. Their markets are gathering-places for harlots; they have built baths for the purpose of indulging themselves in their comforts; they have built bridges to collect tolls from those who cross them.'" Full text available at
  28. ^ Perry, George. The Life of Python, Pavillion, 1994, p. 161
  29. ^ SOTCAA (2004). "Monty Python – Films". UK Online. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  30. ^ Michael Palin, Diaries: The Python Years, 1969–1979
  31. ^ Nash, David (2007). Blasphemy in the Christian World: A History. Oxford University Press. pp. 214. ISBN 0199255164. Retrieved 18 May 2010. 
  32. ^ Chapman, Graham; et al. (1979). Monty Python's The Life of Brian/MONTYPYTHONSCRAPBOOKOFBRIANOFNAZARETH. script p.34. 
  33. ^ "Life of Brian tops comedy poll". BBC News. 29 September 2000. Retrieved 3 April 2007. 
  34. ^ "Life of Brian named best comedy". BBC. 1 January 2006. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  35. ^ French, Philip (23 July 2007). "The last laugh: your favourite 50". The Guardian (UK).,,2131880,00.html. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ "A selection of the favourite British films of the 20th century". BFI website. 
  39. ^ "Channel 4's 100 Greatest Films". UK: Channel 4. 
  40. ^ "The best movie line ever". Chortle Online Comedy Guide. 
  41. ^ See Hewison.
  42. ^ "Icons of England, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"". 
  43. ^ MacIntyre, Ben (9 November 2007). "Always look on the bright side of strife: The sardonic humour of war". The Times (UK). Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  44. ^ Monty Python's Tunisian Holiday by Kim "Howard" Johnson at Accessed 31 August 2008
  45. ^ The Internet Movie Database
  46. ^ CBC Arts (18 October 2006). "Python gang reunited as Spamalot opens in London". CBC. Retrieved 18 October 2006. 
  47. ^ Vivien Schweitzer (10 April 2007). "Not the Messiah, Eric Idle's Comic Oratorio, to have U.S. Premiere at Caramoor Festival". PlaybillArts. Retrieved 8 May 2007. 
  48. ^ Monica Silveira Cyrino (2006) Big screen Rome Wiley-Blackwell, 2005
  49. ^ [1] YouTube
  50. ^ TheyWorkForYou (3 May 2006). "House of Commons Debates". mySociety. Retrieved 30 March 2007. 
  51. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 3 May 2006, column 963.
  52. ^ "PlayGround - Anika". PlayGround. 14 September 2010. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 

Further reading

  • Hewison, Robert. Monty Python: The Case Against. New York: Grove, 1981. ISBN 0-413-48660-5. This book discusses at length the censorship and controversy surrounding the film.
  • Vintaloro, Giordano. "Non sono il Messia, lo giuro su Dio!" – Messianismo e modernità in Life of Brian dei Monty Python. Trieste: Battello Stampatore, 2008. ISBN 978-88-87208-44-3. [Italian: "I'm not the Messiah, honestly!" – Messianism and modernity in Monty Python's "Life of Brian"]. This book analyses the film structure as an hypertext and Brian the Messiah as a modern leader figure.

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