What better way to spend Easter Sunday than with a rewatch of Monty Python’s irreligious comedy masterpiece, Life Of Brian? 41 years ago the film was banned on its release in Ireland, Norway and Italy and 39 British councils either banned it or slapped it with a dreaded X certificate. Never ones to miss an opportunity for a timely gag, the Pythons stuck “So funny it was banned in Norway” on the film’s promo posters. And despite the frothy mouthed consternation of religious bigots, the film was a huge success – it went on to be the biggest British film of 1979 in the US and the fourth biggest film at the UK box office that year.
But did you know …
1) In 1978, just days before the film was about to go into production, the chairman of EMI, Lord Delfont, finally read the screenplay his company had bought. He hated it so much that he immediately pulled the plug on the finances. The Pythons turned to the richest person they knew, ex-Beatle George Harrison for help. Harrison, who was well known as a huge Python fan, signed on because he said he loved the script and wanted to see the film himself. He had to remortgage his Henley-on-Thames mansion as well as his business partner’s London offices to raise the £2m needed to get the cameras rolling. The shoot ultimately cost £3m, and Eric Idle joked it was “the most anybody’s ever paid for a cinema ticket in history.” This was the catalyst for Harrison setting up Handmade Films, one of the most beloved and shambolic production houses in British film history who went on to make Time Bandits, The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, and Withnail and I.
2) Despite the controversial nature of the film, the Pythons consciously stayed away from making fun of Jesus specifically, or his teachings. Organised religion and fanatics were fair game, but the big man himself wasn’t a target for one simple reason: he wasn’t funny enough. “We couldn’t make a film about Jesus Christ, because he’s not particularly funny, what he’s saying isn’t mockable, it’s very decent stuff, and you can’t take the piss out of it,” said Eric Idle.