Monty Python's Life of Brian

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Template:Infobox Movie Life of Brian is a film from 1979 by Monty Python which deals with the life of Brian (played by Graham Chapman), a young man born nearly the same time as, and in a manger right down the street from, Jesus.

In 2004 the magazine Total Film named Life of Brian the 5th greatest British film of all time.



Life of Brian is essentially a classic farce and is eloquently summed up by Brian's mother (played by Terry Jones) saying, "He's not the messiah; he's a very naughty boy." This notwithstanding, the film is variously seen as a stunning critique of organised and popular religion as a racket involving hypocrisy and religious zealots, a sacrilegious film "deserving censorship," or just a very funny movie.

It also pokes fun at leftist grouplets of the 1970s by featuring several factions that are nominally protesting against the Roman occupation of Judea, but are in fact more at loggerheads with one another (examples include 'The Judean People's Front', 'The People's Front of Judea' and (with only one member) 'The Judean Popular People's Front').[1] (

The film contains all members of Monty Python in multiple roles, and also features cameos by Spike Milligan (who happened to be on holiday in Tunisia where the filming was taking place) and George Harrison (without whom the film would not have been made — since Harrison set up Handmade Films to help fund it after the subject matter scared off the original backers).

Either by accident or design, several characters are never named during the film, although they do have names which are used in the tracklisting for the soundtrack album and elsewhere. There is no mention of the fact that Eric Idle's ever-cheerful joker is called "Mr. Cheeky", that the terribly well-meaning Roman guard played by Michael Palin is (aptly) named "Nisus Wettus", or that Brian's mother (Terry Jones) is named "Mandy".


The film initially attracted some complaints about Michael Palin and Graham Chapman's portrayals of characters with speech impediments (e.g. Biggus Dickus), but Mr Palin insisted that this was solely for humorous purposes. Indeed, his father had a lisp, and he himself gives his name to 'The Michael Palin Centre', which offers "specialist assessment and therapy service in stammering." However, what caused most contention was the film's supposed blasphemous content - which was itself sent up in a 'Stoning' sketch which hinges on the crime of blasphemy.

Protests against the film were organised based on its perceived blasphemy, not least because the film ends with a comical song sung by the victims of a mass crucifixion ("Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", not "Always Look on the Bright Side of Death", as is sometimes stated, although this phrase also occurs in the lyrics). Ironically, this song was later re-released with great success, after being sung by British football fans. Indeed, many people have come to see the song as a life-affirming ode to optimism.

On its initial UK release the film was banned by some town councils (several even took great pleasure in banning it, even though they had no cinemas within their boundaries). This proved rather pointless, since people who wanted to see the film merely went to places where it wasn't banned. The film was also banned for eight years in the Republic of Ireland and for a year in Norway (it was marketed in Sweden as "the movie that is so funny it was banned in Norway!"). The film was not released in Italy until 1990, eleven years after it was made. The film was not shown on Jersey until 2001. The Bailiff of Jersey wanted it to be watched only by adults, even though the BBFC rated it suitable for those aged 14 or over.

Accusations of blasphemous ideas also centred on an off-the-cuff comment by Eric Idle who, asked about the name of the Pythons' forthcoming feature, replied "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory". It has been variously reported, however, that this idea was merely one of a number abandoned at an early brain-storming stage, mainly when it became clear that a parody of Jesus' life just wouldn't work. The focus shifted to a separate individual born at a similar time (a fact lost on many protesters, who didn't realise Jesus appeared separately), and a legend was born. When Jesus does appear in the film (as he does on two occasions--in the stable, and speaking the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-48)) he is played completely genuinely. The comedy only begins when members of the crowd mishear his statement "Blessed are the Peacemakers..." ("I think he said, 'blessed are the cheesemakers"; also, later, there is some debate on whether the Greek should inherit the Earth). The separate appearance of Jesus Christ, and the relatively widespread use of crucifixion in Roman times (and indeed the fact that the plot bears little resemblance to any of the gospels) remove any serious accusation that Brian is supposed to actually be Christ.

Mary Whitehouse and other campaigners launched waves of leaflets and picketing at and around cinemas that showed the film, ironically boosting the publicity. Leaflets suggesting that the Wise Men wouldn't have approached the wrong stable (as they do in the opening of the film), and other such sentiments are ably documented in the book Monty Python: The Case Against (ISBN 0413486605). Shortly after the film was released, Cleese and Palin engaged in a debate over it on the BBC2 discussion programme Friday Night, Saturday Morning, in which Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark put the case against the film. Cleese has frequently said that he enjoyed the debate, since he felt that the film was "completely intellectually defensible". (The debate was then itself sent up the following week in the classic Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch General Synod's Life of Python.)

The central tenet of the film can be summed up as the struggle between 'individual humanism' and conformity, as is demonstrated in this excerpt:

Brian (to adoring crowd): You've got to think for yourself! You are all individuals!
Crowd (in unison): Yes, we are all individuals!
Brian (to adoring crowd): You are all different!
Crowd (in unison): Yes, we are all different!
Single voice (from within the crowd): I'm not.
Crowd (in unison):SHH!

For their part, the Pythons contend on the DVD commentary that the film is heretical because it lampoons the practices of modern organised religion, but does not blasphemously lampoon the God that Christians worship.


On 24 March 2004, CNN reported that the film distributor Rainbow Film Company would be issuing a re-release (marketed as a "Second Coming") of Life of Brian on April 30, 2004 in Los Angeles and New York before expanding to other cities across the USA through May 2004. This was variously reported to be a direct result of the release of Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, or the 25th anniversary of the original theatrical release.


Spin-offs include a script-book The Life of Brian of Nazareth, which is backed by the aptly named MONTYPYTHONSCRAPBOOK... (The printing of this book also caused problems, since there are technical laws in the UK against what can and cannot be written about religion—the publisher refused to print both halves of the book, and original prints are printed by two companies).

An audio recording of Life of Brian has been released on the Disky label. As usual for Monty Python releases when it ties in with films, they add extra jokes. The track list is as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Brian Song (0:19)
  3. The Wise Men at the manger
  4. Brian Song (Continued)
  5. Sermon on the Mount (Big Nose)
  6. Stone Salesman
  7. Stoning
  8. Ex-Leper (Nortius Maximus)
  9. You Mean You Were Raped?
  10. Revolutionaries in the Ampitheatre (Loretta)
  11. Romans Go Home
  12. What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?
  13. Ben
  14. Brian Before Pilate (Thwow Him To The Floow)
  15. Prophets
  16. Beard Salesman
  17. Brian's Prophecy
  18. The Hermit
  19. He's Not the Messiah
  20. He's a Very Naughty Boy
  21. Pilate Sentences Brian
  22. Nisus Wettus
  23. Pilate With The Crowd (Welease Wodger)
  24. Nisus Wettus with the Gaolers
  25. Welease Bwian
  26. Not So Bad Once You're Up
  27. Revs Salute Brian
  28. Cheeky Is Released
  29. Mandy to Her Son (Crack Suicide Squad)
  30. Look on the Bright Side of Life (All Things Dull and Ugly)

External links




  • Hewison, Robert. Monty Python: The Case Against. New York: Grove, 1981. (ISBN 0413486605) This book discusses at length the censorship and controversy surrounding the film.
Monty Python Missing image

Members Graham ChapmanJohn CleeseTerry GilliamEric IdleTerry JonesMichael Palin
Other Contributors Carol ClevelandNeil InnesConnie Booth
Films & TV Series Monty Python's Flying CircusAnd Now For Something Completely DifferentMonty Python and the Holy GrailMonty Python's Life of BrianMonty Python Live at the Hollywood BowlThe Meaning of Life

de:Das Leben des Brian es:La vida de Brian fr:La Vie de Brian hu:Brian élete nl:Monty Python's Life of Brian ja:ライフ・オブ・ブライアン pl:Żywot Briana pt:Life of Brian sv:Ett Herrans Liv he:בריאן כוכב עליון


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