Making a movie based on actual events, especially controversial ones, is a tricky business. No matter how talented or well-intentioned the filmmakers might be, the inherent conflict between presenting events accurately and conveying them dramatically often tips the balance one way or the other. The end result of this process is often films that for all their accuracy are dramatically inert.
If the film is also about well-known comedians, the stakes are even higher because there’s also an expectation of some good laughs along the way. With that in mind, I wasn’t 100% certain what to expect of the new BBC film Holy Flying Circus, about the controversy surrounding the release of Monty Python’s film The Life of Brian.
I’d seen a preview trailer that looked promising, especially when it came to the casting of the members of Monty Python, but great trailers have been known to disappoint. Thankfully, in this case, the trailer was only the tip of a wonderful iceberg. I really loved this movie. Aside from the casting of the film, which again was tremendous even in the guest roles (such as Stephen Fry playing the almighty), what made Holy Flying Circus so good was its wholehearted embrace of Monty Python’s style. This combination of oddball narrative detours and sharp verbal wit enabled the film to make its satirical points without sacrificing the dramatic thrust.
To accomplish the latter point, Oscar-nominated writer Tony Roche wisely focused on the friction between John Cleese and Michael Palin and how their initially different responses to the controversy over the film ultimately lead them to the same place to defend it. That’s not to say that the other Pythons don’t get their spotlight moments, but the sparks between Cleese and Palin are what makes the film work. And it’s because of those sparks that the conclusion of the film ends up being far more affecting than I would have imagined. I won’t say how or why that is, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone when the film finally makes it to American TV next month. If you’re a fan of Monty Python, you’ll find Holy Flying Circus to be a terrific tribute to the group and one of their most beloved works.