Immediately after production wrapped on Monty Python’s massive comedy classic, Life of Brian, the troupe of comedians were bombarded with religious criticism, death threats, and of course news of the film being banned all over the world. Holy Flying Circus is meant to be a documentary of these events, except not really. Much in the style of Monty Python, this film uses sketch comedy, meta-theatricality, and over the top characters to entertain its audience while working to tell this largely untrue version of the story to get Life of Brian seen by the general public. The film is an homage to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, with similar pacing and bizarre premises. The actors playing the various Pythons double up to play other characters coming and going, and of course, there’s men wearing women’s clothing.
The film lives and dies with the cast. Some capture their Python counterparts amazingly, while others feel more thrown in. Darren Boyd’s portrayal of John Cleese is amazing. He doesn’t look exceptionally like John Cleese, and it’s even pointed out in the film that the Cleese character isn’t meant to represent the real John Cleese so much as his Basil Fawlty character from Fawlty Towers. Given all that, Boyd’s performance is spot on. It also has to be said that Steve Punt looks and sounds so much like Eric Idle that for the entire film I thought it was Eric Idle. I couldn’t help but admire the absurdity of the production getting only one original Python to play himself in the film, and was shocked to find out it’s a different person. Charles Edwards’s portrayal of Michael Palin is fantastic. Again, he doesn’t look much like Palin, and in this film the character is more of the straight man for all of the other Pythons to play off of, but his role gives the film an emotional center and a legitimacy while still being hilarious.
The problem then becomes that Rufus Jones, Tom Fisher, and Phil Nichol, who play Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, and Terry Gilliam respectively feel less interesting because they’re not being utilized like the others. It’s not that they’re performances are bad, or that they’re unrecognizable as their characters, but if the entire ensemble were elevated to the same importance, then we may have achieved another staple of the original Flying Circus TV show. When any of the ensemble played a character on the show, they were immediately recognized. Here, it’s easy for the actors to get lost in the various sub-characters they portray. This also gets into my big criticism of the film; that the core ensemble should have played most all of the characters we saw on screen. I realize the Monty Python movies didn’t do this as much as Flying Circus, but it was still common for the Pythons themselves to play the bulk of the characters. Not that a cameo from Stephen Fry as God wasn’t completely welcome.
At the end of the film, I’m left asking myself what actually happened. It must be somewhat based in reality before it was blown up into this ridiculous roller coaster. And beneath the sketch comedy, there is a genuine message about censorship and religious sensitivity. It’s really great, and well worth your time. Just don’t expect a realistic telling of the real-life story. This is purely entertainment.
Special features include a blooper reel, deleted scenes, making of featurette, and some production stills.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Acorn Media on September 4.