Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Promotional poster for 2001 re-release
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Terry Jones
Produced by Mark Forstater
Michael White
John Goldstone
Written by Monty Python
Starring Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Editing by John Hackney
Studio Python (Monty) Pictures
Distributed by EMI Films (UK)
Cinema 5 Distributing (1974)
Rainbow Releasing (2001)
Sony Pictures Entertainment (USA, home video)
Release date(s) 3 April 1974 (1974-04-03) (UK)
10 May 1974 (1974-05-10) (US)
14 August 1974 (1974-08-14) (Australia)
Running time 87 minutes (Original)
89 minutes (Re-release)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £229,575 ($365,274)
Box office £80,371,739 ($127,878,662)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a 1974 British comedy film written and performed by the comedy group Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin), and directed by Gilliam and Jones. It was conceived during the gap between the third and fourth series of their popular BBC television programme Monty Python's Flying Circus.

In contrast to the group's first film, And Now for Something Completely Different, a compilation of sketches from the first two television series, Holy Grail was composed of new material, therefore considered the first "proper" film by the group. It generally parodies the legend of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail. The film was a success on its initial release, and Idle used the film as the inspiration for the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical Spamalot.

The film was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1976, but lost to A Boy and His Dog.



Monty Python and the Holy Grail loosely follows the legend of King Arthur. Arthur (Chapman) along with his squire, Patsy (Gilliam), recruits his Knights of the Round Table, including Sir Bedevere the Wise (Jones), Sir Lancelot the Brave (Cleese), Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot (Idle) and Sir Galahad the Pure (Palin). On the way Arthur battles the Black Knight (Cleese) who, despite having had all his limbs being chopped off, continues to try fighting. They reach Camelot, but Arthur decides not to enter, as it is a "silly[1] place." They are instructed by God (represented by an animated photograph of cricket figure W. G. Grace[2]) to seek out the Holy Grail.

Their first stop is a French-controlled castle where they believe the Grail is being held. After being insulted in mangled Franglais, they try to sneak into the castle in a Trojan Rabbit, but this plan goes terribly wrong when they forget to hide inside it and the rabbit is subsequently catapulted back at them. Arthur then decides the group should separate to seek the Grail.

Concurrently, in a manner of breaking the fourth wall, a modern-day historian is describing the Arthurian legend for a television program. He is suddenly killed by a knight on horseback, triggering a police investigation.

Each of the Knights encounters various perils on their quest. Arthur and Bedevere attempt to satisfy the strange requests of the dreaded Knights who say Ni. Sir Robin narrowly avoids a fight with the Three-Headed Giant by running away while the heads are arguing, causing embarrassment as the bard following him sings 'Brave Sir Robin ran away.' Sir Lancelot accidentally assaults a wedding party at Swamp Castle, mistakenly believing them to be holding a lady against her will, only to discover an effeminate boy. Galahad is led by a Grail-shaped beacon to Castle Anthrax, populated only by women who wish to perform sexual favours for him, but is "rescued" by Lancelot, though slightly against his will. The Knights regroup and travel to see Tim the Enchanter (Cleese), who points them to caves where the location of the Grail is written on the walls. To enter the caves, the group is forced to defeat the Rabbit of Caerbannog using the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. They enter the cave and are attacked by The Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh, which devours Brother Maynard. Arthur and his Knights flee and barely escape by virtue of the beast's animator suffering a fatal heart attack.

With their final destination known, the group travels to its last peril, the Bridge of Death, where each Knight is forced to answer three questions by the bridge-keeper (Gilliam) before they can cross the Gorge of Eternal Peril; Sirs Robin and Galahad fail and are thrown into a chasm below, before Arthur tricks the bridge-keeper. Lancelot becomes separated from Arthur and Bedevere, and is later shown being arrested by police for the murder of the historian. Arthur and Bedevere travel to the Grail castle, which turns out to be occupied by the same French forces who insulted and drove them off earlier. The Knights amass a large army and prepare to storm the castle, but just as they begin to charge, the modern police arrive on the scene. Arthur and Bedevere are arrested, and one of the officers knocks the film out of the camera, putting an abrupt end to the movie. There are no end credits, only several minutes of organ music played over a black screen.


The film was mostly shot on location in Scotland,[3] particularly around Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and the privately owned Castle Stalker. The many castles seen throughout the film were either Doune Castle shot from different angles or cardboard models held up against the horizon. There are several exceptions to this: the very first exterior shot of a castle at the beginning of the film is Kidwelly Castle in South Wales and the single exterior shot of the Swamp King castle during "Tale of Sir Lancelot" is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex — all subsequent shots of the exterior and interior of those scenes were filmed at Doune Castle. King Arthur was the only character whose chain mail armour was authentic. The "armour" worn by his various knights was silver-painted wool, which absorbed moisture in the cold and wet conditions.

The film was co-directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, the first major project for both and the first project where any members of the Pythons were behind the camera. This proved to be troublesome on the set as Jones and Gilliam had different directing styles and it often was not clear who was in charge. The other Pythons evidently preferred Jones, who as an acting member of the group was focused more on performance, as opposed to Gilliam, whose visual sense they admired but whom they sometimes thought too fussy: on the DVD audio commentary, Cleese expresses irritation at a scene set in Castle Anthrax, where he says the focus was on technical aspects rather than comedy. The two later Python feature films, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, both have Jones as the sole director.

In the scene where the knights were combatting the Killer Rabbit, a real white rabbit was used. He was dyed with what was assumed to be a washable red coloring liquid in the shots after the battle. When filming wrapped the rabbit's owner was dismayed to learn the dye could not be rinsed off. Gilliam described in an audio commentary that the owner of the rabbit was present and shooting was abruptly halted while the cast desperately attempted to clean the rabbit before the owner found out, an unsuccessful attempt. He also stated that he thought that, had they been more experienced in film-making, the crew would have just purchased a rabbit instead. Otherwise the rabbit himself was unharmed. Also, the rabbit-bite effects were done via special puppetry by both Terry Gilliam and SFX technician John Horton.

As chronicled in The Life of Python, The First 20X Years of Monty Python, and The Pythons' Autobiography it was revealed that Graham Chapman was suffering from acrophobia, trembling, and bouts of forgetfulness during filming. These were the results of Chapman's long-standing alcohol addiction, and he decided from that moment on to remain "on an even keel" while the production continued. Nearly three years after Holy Grail, Chapman vowed to quit drinking altogether (which he successfullly achieved in December 1977).

Chapman as King Arthur in Holy Grail

Originally the knight characters were going to ride real horses, but after it became clear that the film's small budget precluded real horses the Pythons decided that their characters would mime horse-riding while their porters trotted behind them banging coconut shells together. The joke was derived from the old-fashioned sound effect used by radio shows to convey the sound of hooves clattering. This was later referred to in the German release of the film, which translated the title as Die Ritter der Kokosnuß[4] ("The Knights of the Coconut").


Actor Main Role Other roles
Graham Chapman King Arthur Voice of God, Hiccoughing Guard, Middle Head of Three-Headed Knight
John Cleese Sir Lancelot Second soldier in opening scene, Man in plague scene with body, Black Knight, Third Villager, French Taunter, Tim the Enchanter
Terry Gilliam Patsy Old Man (Soothsayer) in Scene 24/Bridgekeeper, Green Knight, Sir Bors (First to be killed by rabbit), Weak-hearted animator (Himself), Gorilla Hand
Eric Idle Sir Robin The Dead Collector, First Villager, Confused Guard at Swamp Castle, Concorde (squire of Sir Lancelot), Roger the Shrubber, Brother Maynard
Terry Jones Sir Bedevere Dennis's Mother, Left Head of Three-Headed Knight, Prince Herbert, Voice of the Cartoon Scribe, French Knight
Michael Palin Sir Galahad First soldier in opening scene, Dennis, Second Villager, Right Head of Three-Headed Knight, King of Swamp Castle, Monk (Maynard's assistant), Main Knight who says "Ni", Narrator, French Knight, Guest at Swamp Castle, Mud-Eater
Neil Innes Sir Robin's Minstrel Head of chanting monks, Page crushed by wooden rabbit, Fourth Villager
Connie Booth The Witch
Carol Cleveland Zoot Dingo (Zoot's twin)
Bee Duffell Old crone
John Young Historian Dead body (who claims to be not dead)
Rita Davies Historian's Wife
Sally Kinghorn Winston
Avril Stewart Piglet


In addition to several songs written by Python regular Neil Innes, several pieces of music were licensed from De Wolfe Music Library. These include

  • Ice Floe 9, composed by Pierre Arvay. Used during the beginning titles.
  • Countrywide,[5] composed by Anthony Mawer. Used during the beginning titles after the first titlers are sacked.
  • Homeward Bound, composed by Jack Trombey. Used as King Arthur's heroic theme.
  • The Flying Messenger,[6] composed by Oliver Armstrong. Played during Sir Lancelot's misguided storming of Swamp Castle.
  • The Promised Land,[7] composed by Stanley Black. Used in the scene where Arthur approaches the castle on the island.
  • Starlet in the Starlight,[8] composed by Kenneth Essex. Briefly used for Prince Herbert's attempt to express himself in song.
  • Love Theme,[9] composed by Peter Knight. Also used briefly for Prince Herbert.

Television broadcast

The film had its television premiere 25 February 1977 on the CBS Late Movie.[citation needed] Reportedly the Pythons were displeased to discover a number of edits were done by the network to reduce use of profanity and the showing of blood. The troupe pulled back the rights and thereafter had it broadcast in the United States only on PBS and later other channels such as IFC, where it runs uncut.[10]

Home video editions

The first DVD was released in 1999 and had only a non-anamorphic print, about two pages of production notes, and trailers for other Sony Pictures releases.

On 23 October 2001, the Special Edition DVD was released. Disc One includes two commentary tracks (featuring Idle, Palin, and Cleese in the first, Jones and Gilliam in the second), "Subtitles For People Who Don't Like the Film", consisting of lines taken from William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2, and a feature for the Hard of Hearing, where the menu is read aloud in a very loud voice.

As an extension of the group's penchant for never abiding to a generic formula, the film (if not already in progress) commences with a short subject named "Dentist on the Job" (Its American title is Get on With It, a phrase spoken multiple times throughout Holy Grail) After the opening credits, the projectionist (played by Terry Jones) realizes it is the wrong film and puts the correct one on (But not until after he displays the "Please Wait" caption).

Also is a deleted scene where Galahad meets Dingo, during which she breaks out of character, turns to the camera and asks the audience if they should cut that scene. Her response is everyone yelling "GET ON WITH IT!" (including God). (The DVD box says the deleted scene is a mere 24 seconds).

Disc Two includes a "brickfilm" version of the "Camelot Song" as sung by Lego minifigures,[11] two scenes dubbed in Japanese and translated back through subtitles. "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations", hosted by Michael Palin and Terry Jones, shows places in Scotland used for the setting titled as "England 932 A.D." (as well as the two Pythons purchasing a copy of their own script as a guide). Also included is a who's who page, advertising galleries, sing-alongs, and a small featurette about the proper use of a coconut (presented by Michael Palin).

Reaction and legacy

This film is #41 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted Monty Python and the Holy Grail the 5th greatest comedy film of all time. The next Monty Python film, Monty Python's Life of Brian, was ranked #1. A similar poll of Channel 4 viewers in 2005 placed Holy Grail in 6th (with Life of Brian again topping the list). A 2004 poll by the UK arm of Amazon and the Internet Movie Database named Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the best British picture of all time.[12]

In 2011, ABC aired a primetime special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, that counted down the best films chosen by fans based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was selected as the #2 Best Comedy.


A number of works, such as video games, novels, and newspapers pay homage to this movie.

  • The 2007 DreamWorks Animation film Shrek the Third includes a scene in which a character is banging coconuts together to simulate the sound of horses' hooves. Although both John Cleese and Eric Idle appeared in the film, Idle stated that he did not know and did not approve of the use of the gag in the film. He claims to be considering suing the producers for the unauthorised use of the gag, while the producers claim they were honouring Idle and Cleese by its use.[13]
  • The beer Monty Python's Holy Ale comes complete with Python-style cartoons, including the trademark foot of Cupid. The label states it is "Tempered over burning witches."[14]
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, Doomsday World, co-written by Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, and Robert Greenberger, Geordi La Forge is sitting in a bar, the proprietor of which is described as knowing "everything about anything." Geordi asks the bartender some obscure questions about the dimensions and climate about the planet they are on, which the bartender answers, immediately and correctly. Geordi then asks, "What's the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?" to which the bartender replies, "African or European?" Geordi is forced to concede, muttering "Damn, he's good."[15]
  • In 2009, Gatorade released an online campaign entitled "Mission G" and 10-minute commercial entitled "The Quest for G" that parodies many elements of the film. The commercial starred Kevin Garnett in the King Arthur role; Derek Jeter, Jimmie Johnson, Usain Bolt, Misty May, Kerri Walsh, and Alicia Sacramone as the knights; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Tim the Enchanter role, and Michael Jordan as the voice of the Grail.[16]


  1. ^ "Scene 1". Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Internet Sacred Text Archive. 
  2. ^ "Dr W.G. Grace - Last match 1908". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 July 2008. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  3. ^ "Monty Python and the Holy Grail filming locations". Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  4. ^ "Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - Premierendaten". 2009-05-01. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  5. ^ "Countrywide". Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  6. ^ "Flying Messenger". Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  7. ^ "The Promised Land". Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  8. ^ "Starlet In The Starlight". Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  9. ^ "Love Theme". Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  10. ^ Monty Python... Films[dead link]
  11. ^ "Monty Python LEGO". 2001-09-13. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  12. ^ "Python's Grail 'best Brit film'". BBC News. 12 February 2004. 
  13. ^ "Eric Idle considers suing Shrek makers over gag". Toronto Star. 21 May 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2007. 
  14. ^ "Tasting Notes: Monty Python's Holy Grail". Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  15. ^ Carter, Varmen; Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger (1998). Doomsday World. Star Trek: The Next Generation. 12. POCKET BOOKS. ISBN 0-7434-2092-6. 
  16. ^ "Gatorade". Mission G. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 

Further Reading

The Pythons Autobiography by the Pythons, St.Martin's Press, 2003

The First 200 Years of Monty Python by Kim "Howard" Johnson, St. Martin's Press, 1989

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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