Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a comedy film from 1974. It was written, performed, and directed by Monty Python, an English comedy group, during a gap between the third and final series of their popular BBC television series Monty Python's Flying Circus. The group's first film, And Now For Something Completely Different, had been a compilation of sketches from the television series; in contrast, Holy Grail was composed of wholly original material. Based loosely on the legend of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail, the film was a success on its initial run and retains a large-scale cult following today.



Monty Python were famous for parodying the conventions of television and motion picture formats, often including fake continuity announcements or using the opening and closing credits as part of the humour. As a continuation of this, the opening title credits of Holy Grail co-credited several fictional directors, including "40 specially trained Ecuadorian Mountain llamas, 6 Venezuelan Red Llamas, 148 Mexican Whooping Llamas, 14 North Chilean Guanacos (closely related to the llama), Reg Llama of Brixton, and 76000 Battery Llamas from 'Llama Fresh Farms Ltd' near Paraguay". They ran for almost ten minutes, and, according to the group's DVD commentary track, were included in part to save on the film's budget.

In reality the film was directed by series regular Terry Jones and the group's American animator, Terry Gilliam, who also produced the film's linking animations and title credits. Along with their co-stars John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, and Graham Chapman, Jones and Gilliam performed several roles in the film, which also had prominent speaking parts for songwriter Neil Innes, John Cleese's then-wife Connie Booth, and Carol Cleveland, who had appeared several times in the group's television series. Both Jones and Gilliam went on to have successful careers as directors in their own right, although the experiment with co-direction on Holy Grail proved to be a one-off, as it led to creative friction. Gilliam, in particular, found that his training as an animator did not lend itself to directing human beings, although his sense of the graphic — which would come to prominence with later films such as Time Bandits and Brazil — has ensured that Holy Grail remains visually impressive, despite a budget of less than £200,000. This money was raised in part with donations from rock groups such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

The film was shot on location in Scotland, particularly around Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and the privately-owned Castle Stalker. As a consequence of the low budget, the film had to make do without horses. Instead, the actors bashed together coconut shells to replicate the sound of horse's hooves. The chainmail armour worn by the various knights was actually silver-painted wool, whilst the many castles seen throughout the film were either Doune Castle shot from different angles, or cardboard models held up against the horizon.

As an extension of the group's penchant for bizarre title credits, the 2001 DVD release of the film commences with the British Board of Film Censors' certification for Dentist on the Job, a film "Passed as more suitable for Exhibition to Adult Audiences", followed by its grainy black and white opening titles and several minutes of the film itself. During the opening scene of Dentist on the Job the projectionist (played by Terry Jones) realises it is the wrong film and puts the correct one on (Dentist on the Job was a 1961 comedy starring Bob Monkhouse, perhaps chosen as an epitome of the comedy to which Monty Python had once provided an alternative). The credits for Holy Grail have (spurious) Swedish subtitles and many references to the moose. The film has no ending credits, instead cutting to a black screen and some organ music.

Cast on the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Cast on the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


The Holy Grail has an episodic plot line, with a style based on the sketch comedy of Monty Python's television show. Most of the story is told in isolated sections, linked only by the ongoing theme of the quest for the Holy Grail and Terry Gilliam's animations.

The story more or less follows the adventures of King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his knights of the Round Table across England in their search for the Holy Grail. On the way, the brave knights (including Sir Bedivere (Terry Jones), Sir Lancelot (John Cleese), Sir Galahad (Michael Palin), and Sir Robin the Not Quite So Brave As Sir Lancelot (Eric Idle)) encounter the Black Knight, the perils of Castle Anthrax (Doune castle), the Knights who say Ni (later known as the Knights who say "Ecky-ecky-ecky-ecky-p'Kang! Zoorp-frobin! zowzim!"), a blood-thirsty rabbit (which they defeat by means of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch), and a gigantic cartoon monster, "The Legendary Black Beast of Arrrrrrrrgh" (they are saved when the animator (Terry Gilliam) suffers a fatal heart attack.) There are other misadventures involving anarcho-syndicalist peasants, an alleged witch (Connie Booth), the King of Swamp Castle (Doune castle) and his effeminate musical son, Herbert, a pyromaniacal enchanter called "Tim", the Bridge of Death (guarded by the Old Man from Scene 24), and Frenchmen (led by John Cleese) who revel in taunting the travellers, without much success (or, indeed, understanding).

Missing image
The killer rabbit

At a number of key places in the film the question is raised, What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? It is introduced in the opening scenes of the film, and remains an open question right up to the end. The only clear response is given by King Arthur, requesting clarification: "What do you mean, an African or European swallow?". References to swallows are ubiquitous in the film, and in one scene a man is seen holding a swallow in one hand and a coconut in the other, tied together in an attempt to prove that swallows can carry coconuts.

Sir Robin's minstrels (their leader played by Neil Innes) sing of how brave he would hypothetically be in the face of horrific and graphically-described tortures, and then sing about how bravely he flees at the first sign of danger. Much to Sir Robin's relief, he and the other knights are later forced to eat the minstrels.

The film ends abruptly when a group of police from the 1970s interrupt the climactic battle scene to arrest King Arthur for the murder of a "famous historian" (who looked very much like A. J. P. Taylor) earlier in the film. The Grail presumably is left in the hands of the Frenchmen in Castle Aaaargh (Castle Stalker).

Home Video Editions, locations

Among the many home-video releases of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the DVD "Special Edition" is most recommended for its exhaustive list of special features, including two commentary tracks, documentaries related to the film, the "Camelot Song" as sung by LEGO men[1] (, and "Subtitles For People Who Don't Like the Film", consisting of lines taken from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II, specially selected to match the film's dialogue.

The DVD "Special Edition" includes "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations" which shows places in Scotland used for the setting titled as "England 932 A.D.". Many scenes were filmed in or around Doune castle, "Scene 24" and the blood-thirsty rabbit's "Cave of Caerbannog" were in sight of Loch Tay, near Killin, and "The Bridge of Death" was in Glen Coe. In the closing battle scene, shots facing "Castle Aaaargh" were filmed at Castle Stalker but the shots looking the other way towards the huge army were filmed later somewhere near Stirling once they'd managed to get enough people.


A number of video games pay homage to this movie, an indication of its huge following in geek culture.

In Conquests of Camelot there is an Easter egg. In the treasury, when the user types "ask about ham and jam and spam a lot", three knights will appear on the screen dancing the "Spamalot" theme. Then a text window appears mentioning that this Easter egg is dedicated to the memory of Chapman.

In Quest for Glory I, a gargoyle will ask the user questions that are inspired form the Bridge of Death scene. Also, in IV of the series, one of the monsters you encounter is the killer rabbit.

In the MMORPG Asheron's Call, the White Rabbit is a fearsome beast that drops the Orb of the Bunny Booty. Its level is 666.

In addition, New World Computing's computer game Heroes of Might and Magic III has a number of cheat codes, all of which are references to this movie. All the cheat codes are preceded with "nwc," the developer's initials, followed by the reference. For example, typing in nwcshrubbery (a reference to Arthur's encounter with the Knights who say "Ni") rewards the player with 100,000 gold and 100 of every resource. The code nwcalreadygotone rewards the player with a full Grail map, nwcsirrobin forfeits the game and nwccoconuts gives unlimited movement. There are many more cheat codes in the game and all in some way reference this comedy classic.

In Blizzard's Warcraft_III, many "annoy messages" (which are spoken by the units when clicked several times on them) from the Human race are Monty Python references. For example, peasants sometimes utter "we found a witch, may we burn her?", "You're the king? Well, I didn't vote for you!" or "help, help, I'm being repressed!" Knights sometimes say "I am a knight, and I never say Ni!" Footmen are also found to utter "It's just a flesh wound!".

Also, in the games "Worms: Armeggedon" and "Worms World Party", the Holy Hand Grenade is one of the most powerful hand-launched weapons, unleashing a huge explosion only after a Handel-esque "Hallelujah".

For other uses of the Holy Hand Grenade, see the relevant article.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail was also spoofed as a LEGO movie. This spoof was then spoofed with a version done in Flash with the style of 8-bit Theatre.

In the game Fallout 2, there is a Bridge of Death parody, which functions as closely to the original scene (the player is damaged thousands of points of damage instead of flung into a pit). While the player can play the role 'straight' and simply walk past, players are encouraged to ask a question incorrectly. The robes the Bridgekeeper wears are amusingly stronger than most armors in the game. Answering with a question will lead to the Bridgekeeper dying horribly.

In the same game, another parody exists, but does not usually function in the game. The player discovers a large group of Knights wearing Power Armor who ask the player if he has found the Holy Hand Grenade. Had the joke existed fully, the player could (through a random encounter) find the Grenade for these Knights. However, perhaps it was just half-made. One of these random encounters will never show up.

In the game Escape from Monkey Island, the line "Your mother was a hamster!" is used in a friendly bout of insult swordfighting. The comeback is "Your father smelled of elderberries."

The cardgame Munchkin (by Steve Jackson Games) has a very weak monster called the 'perfectly ordinary bunny rabbit', which has a chance of actually being 'that rabbit from that movie' and a very strong monster.


A computer game based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in 1996. It was primarily an adventure game, in which the object was to travel through the scenes of the movie, collecting items along the way. Notably, it included an animated version of a scene cut from the film, involving Arthur and the knights' encounter with the "Wild" King Brian.

A musical entitled Monty Python's Spamalot, based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, opened in Chicago on December 21, 2004, and moved to Broadway in March 2005. Eric Idle wrote the musical's book, and he collaborated with John Du Prez for the music and lyrics. It is directed by Mike Nichols but features none of the original Python actors, though God is played by the pre-recorded voice of John Cleese. It won best Musical at the Tony Awards in 2005.

Monty Python even markets their own beer, which is called Monty Python's Holy Grail with the letters "Gr" crossed out.


(External links play audio samples of the line in question. Further audio quotes are available here (

  • Black Knight: "'Tis but a scratch." (after having his arm cut off)
  • Arthur (contemplating a trip to Camelot, in which his knights dance, and sing, and eat ham and jam and spam-a-lot): "On second thought, let us not go to Camelot. 'Tis a silly place."
  • Arthur (to the Lord God): "Good idea, O Lord."
    God: "'Course it's a good idea!"
  • Robin's minstrel: "He was not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp."
  • Frenchman: "I'm French! Why do you think I have this outrageous accent, you silly King?"
  • Arthur: "Old woman!"
    Dennis: "Man."
    Arthur: "Man. Sorry."
    Dennis: "I'm thirty-seven."
    Arthur: "What?"
    Dennis: "I'm not old."
    Arthur: "Well, I can't just call you 'man', can I?"
    Dennis: "You could have called me Dennis."
    Arthur: "I didn't know your name was Dennis."
  • Arthur: "Charge!" (he and his knights charge the Killer Rabbit, which attacks them) "Run away!"
  • Lancelot: "Brave, brave Concorde! You shall not have died in vain!"
    Concorde (after having been shot with an arrow): "Uh, I'm not quite dead sir."
    Lancelot: "Well, you shall not have been mortally wounded in vain!"
    Concorde: "I think I'm all right, sir"
  • King: "One day, lad, all this will be yours."
    Herbert: "What, the curtains?"
    King: "No, not the curtains, lad."
  • King: "I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up! And that's what you're gonna get, lad: the strongest castle in these islands."
  • Bedevere: "...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."
    Arthur: "This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes."
  • Bridgekeeper: " the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow!?"
    Arthur: "What do you mean, African or the European swallow?"
  • Dingo: "Bad, bad, bad Zoot! You must punish her by spanking her!"
    Girl: "And after you have spanked her, you must spank me!"
    Another girl: "And me!"
    Yet another girl: "And after the spanking, the oral sex!"
    Sir Galahad: "Well, I could stay just a little longer..."

See also

External links


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:Die Ritter der Kokosnuss

es:Los caballeros de la mesa cuadrada fr:Monty Python, sacré Graal ja:モンティ・パイソン・アンド・ホーリー・グレイル nl:Monty Python and the Holy Grail


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