Monty Python’s Life of Brian is nowadays considered one of the greatest British comedy films of all time, but its theatrical release provoked a storm of religious outrage in this country in 1979, and that furore is now set to be dramatised by the BBC.
Written by The Thick of It co-writer Tony Roche, the 90-minute Holy Flying Circus will air on BBC4 this autumn and examine the subject of freedom of speech through the prism of the Life of Brian controversy.
Life of Brian, which takes an irreverent look at the story of Jesus Christ and pivots around a reluctant messiah called Brian Cohen, was considered blasphemous at the time of its release and banned from playing in many regions of Britain by local councils.
It was later denounced on then-popular chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning by Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, whose debate about the film’s merits or lack thereof with Python stars John Cleese and Michael Palin is an event that Holy Flying Circus builds towards.
The new drama is set to follow the format of BBC4’s other comedy dramatisations like The Curse of Steptoe and Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! and take the form of “a fantastical reimagining”, which will employ familiar Python clichés such as puppetry and animation.
None of the surviving Python cast are involved in the new drama but will be played on screen by Phil Nichol (Terry Gilliam), Steve Punt (Eric Idle), Darren Boyd (John Cleese), Charles Edwards (Michael Palin), Rufus Jones (Terry Jones) and Tom Fisher (Graham Chapman).
BBC4 controller Richard Klein is reported as saying: “This is a smart and witty take on both the nature of censorship and the world of Monty Python. Tony Roche’s script is both bold and entertaining, a wonderfully warm homage to one of the most original of British comedy teams.”
The channel is also planning to air the original Friday Night, Saturday Morning debate to complement the new film.