Monty Python's Life of Brian
is generally regarded by anyone in possession of a sense of humour as one of the greatest films made. But it was also highly controversial and some Christian groups desperate to be offended convinced themselves that it was an attack on their faith and tried to get the release banned, or at least have it re-certified so that it wouldn't lead to younger audiences questioning what they were being told. This film is set just after completion of the film as the controversy starts to build momentum and is a fictionalised account of events - but like so many works of fiction, it probably speaks a lot of truth too.
The first thing which strikes you about "Holy Flying Circus" is how authentically Pythonesque it seems, it captures not only the `look' but the spirit of Python humour too, if this were to be included in a film bundle along with the other Monty Python titles, it certainly wouldn't feel out of place - and that's high praise. The troupe themselves are well represented, mainly with actors whom comedy fans will probably recognise - and they adopt the looks and (more importantly) the mannerisms of the Pythons they play with the central cast playing multiple roles. The guys are caricatures rather than fully-fleshed out characters, but this is done intentionally and in the case of John Cleese the audience is told that his portrayal is based on his Basil Fawlty persona - and therefore instantly recognisable. The Monty Python crew tended to work in twos, Palin and Jones' partnership is the only one really explored here and is highlighted by showing them married, with Terry Jones dressed in a frock of course. You don't get much Monty Python than that.
Central to the film is the religious backlash against the Life Of Brian, Christians are gently mocked, but that's fair game - if they happen to be right, they've got a God on their side. It's the misuse of Religious authority which gets the brunt of any attack - much like in the film which inspired this one. The argument turns into one about blind faith versus free speech and those wanting censorship are shown as incensed because they've been told to by their church authorities ("you don't have to make up your own minds, the church has spoken for you"), their complete lack of facts best shown when clips of American protesters show a woman claiming that "Monty Python is an evil man!". The claims of blasphemy famously came to a head when on a live TV debate John Cleese and Michael Palin failed to get over most of their plannedpoints after a the church representatives dominated the proceedings by behaving like smug bullies. This event has been incredibly re-staged and if you didn't realise it was a recreation then at first glance you'd think it was actual footage. Darren Boyd absolutely nails the likeness of John Cleese and Charles Edwards could be Michael Palin's twin, the religious spokesmen sometimes look over-acted but they aren't - that's really how pompously awful they were.
This was a made-for-TV film so it doesn't look particularly cinematic, including animated scenes, some creative puppetry and a light sabre-fight make sure the abstract absurdities of Monty Python are upheld. The DVD includes a few extras including 3 deleted scenes, 12 minutes of outakes, and a short 'making of' which outlines the work required to create the opening sequence.
In a nutshell: The semi fictional angle is perfect to reflect the surrealist comedy of the group while attention to detail enables this to look familiar. In-jokes and pop-culture references will be appreciated by Python fans but those not familiar with the scene shouldn't feel too alienated. This is an entertaining way to tell a fascinating part of media history when the treatment of a comedy film resonated with deeper questions about censorship being used to protect a few established groups from challenged or offended.