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"Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally...",
This review is from: Holy Flying Circus [DVD] (DVD)
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For several years now, BBC4 have been making dramatised accounts of the origins of classic entertainers and shows. Mostly, they've been straight, gravely serious reconstructions: Tony Hancock, Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, Steptoe & Son and Hughie Green for example. After all, isn't the funniest comedy forged out of tragedy and hardship, and aren't comedians just the most insecure and self-loathing of all critics?
This show isn't like any of those. We start with a farting Christ gag, a comedy title crawl and a suitably Gilliamesque title sequence and from there on in we are dropped into the world according to Monty Python. It's a giddy, riotous, hilarious and frequently surreal ride concerning the events of November 1979, when Life Of Brian had been released to controversy and outrage from militant Christian groups, offended by what they perceived as the film's blasphemous imagery. At the centre of the piece is the famous interview between Malcolm Muggeridge with the Bishop of Southwark against Michael Palin and John Cleese in which the Pythons defended not only the film, but their right to make it.
The main attraction for me was seeing how well these household names, mostly still with us, are portrayed by younger men. Darren Boyd, Charles Edwards, Steve Punt, Rufus Jones, Tom Fisher and Phil Nicol (Cleese, Palin, Idle, Jones, Chapman and Gilliam respectively) put in performances that are each excellent in their own ways: Boyd's Cleese is unashamedly Fawltyesque, a fact the script acknowledges cheerily in one of many knowing nods that anticipate the audience's reaction to what they see. Steve Punt, born to play Idle, does it with authentic objectionability -- I mean this as a compliment! -- while Tom Fisher captures the thoughtful, quietly wicked Chapman behind the pipe. Nicol nails Gilliam's naughty transatlantic tone and Charles Edwards is just... eerily like Michael Palin. Rufus Jones's Jones is perhaps a little too wakish, sorry, rakish, but he does a splendid job of playing Terry Jones playing Michael Palin's wife. It's that kind of a show.
I enjoyed Holy Flying Circus very much. As an account of what happened, it's a bare-bones sort of affair. As an affectionate reflection of the madness going on in the life of Python in '79, I daresay it captures something of the time. If you're interested in Python, you'll want to see this as it's your heroes writ larger-than-life. As a lifelong Python-head, I can't say for certain how anyone outside of the Circus would find it, but as a piece of television, it's something of a tour-de-force. And it's funny when it wants to be - so that's that, really.