Like other TV documentary plays about "national treasures" of British comedy - Gracie Fields, Hatti Jacques, Kenneth Williams - this exploration of the Monty Python team homes in on a specific point of crisis in the subject's career. In this case, it's the infamous outcry that greeted the release of their movie "Life of Brian", an entirely innocent satire on religious and political intolerance which, unfortunately for them, was set around the year Dot and featured a brief appearance from an actor playing Jesus Christ himself. Although Jesus was presented with complete respect (the movie's barbed wit being reserved for almost everyone else) there were knee-jerk accusations of blasphemy. Death threats were issued, councils instituted bans on religious grounds and middle class outrage dminated public opinion. This rather shameful episode culminated in John Cleese and Micahel Palin appearing on a chat show sparring match with a self-righteous bishop and pundit Malcolm Muggeridge, neither of whom had seen the whole film.
'Holy Flying Circus' uses the Python team's own methods in presenting the story - surreal jump-cuts, interpolations and fantasy sequences as well as running jokes, like Cleese appearing only in his Basil Fawlty persona (subject to disclaimer) and Mrs Palin being played by a man in drag. There's a sequence where Palin repeatedly wakes from a series of bizarre dreams-within-dreams, and one where the actors are replaced by Star Wars action figures in the midst of a lightsabre battle. On the whole all this succeeds - the pacing only occasionally flags, the impersonations (well, maybe not Terry Gilliam) are pretty much spot-on and the film is an interesting document of a kind of middle-class outrage that's probably now, thankfully, disappeared. And as we all know - "Life of Brian" went on to be one of the most celebrated comedy films of all time, so the Pythons had the last laugh.