Life of Brian – Thirty Years On

There’s a nice article by Sanjeev Bhaskar in today’s Sunday Telegraph on the Life of Brian, perhaps the greatest of British film comedies and thirty years old this year (FWIW I wrote about the film on its twenty-fifth anniversary here). As Mr. Bhaskar notes, it is a movie that would be unlikely to be made today given “current sensitivities”. Too true, I fear.

Here’s an extract from Mr. Bhaskar’s article:

The film premiered in America in August 1979 and immediately caused a brouhaha. The Rabbinical Alliance declared the film “foul, disgusting and blasphemous”. The Lutheran Council described it as “profane parody”. Not to be outdone, the Catholic Film Monitoring Office made it a sin even to see the film. Audiences, however, loved it, making Brian the most successful British movie in North America that year.

To counter the mounting protests in Britain, an ingenious advertising campaign was launched featuring the mothers of John Cleese and Terry Gilliam. Muriel Cleese said that if the film didn’t do well, and as her son was on a percentage, she may very well be evicted from her nice retirement home – and that the move might kill her. She won an award for the ad.

Mary Whitehouse [a tireless campaigner for her own brand of decency] failed to prove that the film was blasphemous, particularly since Christ and Brian are distinctly shown as different people. Nevertheless, a number of local councils banned it – including some that didn’t even have a cinema. The result was coach parties being organised in places such as Cornwall (where it was banned) to cinemas in Exeter (where it wasn’t). The Swedish marketed the film as “so funny it was banned in Norway”….

…The film’s view of blind faith seems as apposite as ever, and the closing song has come to represent a sort of British resilience – laughing in the face of adversity. It has been appropriated by football fans, chosen as the final song at funerals, and, movingly, during the Falklands War, the sailors on the damaged HMS Sheffield sang it while awaiting rescue.

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