Wednesday, 14 October 2015
For one knight only: "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"
After the success of the television series, the Monty Python boys went on to indulge in a spot of Arthurian leg(end)-pulling with 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a film at once mocking itself, the conventions of historical drama, and the very idea of making a movie - much as that TV series kept breaking the frame to mock the idea of television. Strangely, you can still tell that Holy Grail was written by keen students of history. Graham Chapman's "King of the Britons" clippity-clops his way through a landscape that is muddy, bloody and almost completely backward in its ignorance and superstition: the very definition of unenlightened times. Along the way, he encounters Palin, playing one Herbert's father as another of his trademark dead-ahead Yorkshiremen ("You'll not go into a song while I'm here"); Idle, as Roger the Shrubber; and Cleese, as an Enchanter called Tim; in a comedy with a notably high bodycount, some of these even survive through to the truncated - or truncheonated - end credits. It's perhaps less satisfying in storytelling terms than Life of Brian was to be four years later - whole stretches between skits are recounted by a narrator, or via Terry Gilliam animations - but proves strong on silly and otherwise inspired gags. The budget-induced decision to replace horses with coconut shells remains surprisingly funny, and there are several of the best riffs and punchlines the Pythons ever arrived at: the much-quoted likes of "He hasn't got shit all over him", "All right, we'll call it a draw" and "It's a fair cop" can all be heard within the opening twenty minutes alone.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail returns to selected cinemas tonight; a 40th anniversary Blu-Ray edition is also now available.