On release its controversial subject matter inevitably ruffled a great many ecclesiastical feathers and was banned in some places in the UK, a ban rumoured to have been upheld in Swansea until 1997.
The documentary The Secret Life of Brian charts the film’s development (from Eric Idle’s glb response to the question of what the Pythons were working on next – he quipped: Jesus Christ – Lust for Glory!) to the famous showdown on the BBC debate programme Friday Night, Saturday Morning. There Pythons John Cleese and Michael Palin were berated by the highly regarded broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, the Right Reverend Mervyn Stockwood, for their film which they considered as blasphemous.
Now the BBC are using this debate as the basis of a new drama entitled Holy Flying Circus. Tony Roche, who had a hand in Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It and In the Loop, is scripting the drama and Owen Harris will direct.
Reporting on the new drama the BBC revealed the casting of the actors playing the Pythons as well as a few other hints as to what we can expect.
The BBC said the 90-minute film would incorporate “surreal cutaways including puppetry and animation”.
Controller of BBC Four Richard Klein said: “This is a smart and witty take on both the nature of censorship and the world of Monty Python.
Darren Boyd will play John Cleese and Charles Edwards has been cast in the role of Michael Palin. Comedian Steve Punt will star as Eric Idle, Rufus Jones plays Terry Jones, Scots-Canadian former Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Phil Nichol is Terry Gilliam and Tom Fisher plays the late Graham Chapman.
BBC 4 are due to show the film in the autumn and it will be worth watching not only as a compelling case of cinematic and social culture in the late 1970s but it may also stir up the ongoing debate on censorship; ridiculous accusations of blasphemy aside I can’t see a film life Life of Brian being banned today.
You can see an excerpt of the original debate right here,
and to give the story a little more context here’s the Not the Nine O’Clock News team, who were hugely influenced by the Pythons themselves, giving the controversy a swift kick in the satire with their sketch Monty Python Worshippers. Genius.