Blasphemous or boisterous? When Monty Python’s Life of Brian was released 40 years ago this summer, religious groups and political jurisdictions lined up to denounce it. Ireland refused to show it for eight years, while Norway imposed a 12-month ban. (Sweden immediately stepped up with advertisements claiming it was too funny for Norwegians.)
Some smaller jurisdictions held out even longer. The British borough of Torbay only lifted its ban in 2008, after Brian won an online poll of what to show at the local English Riviera International Comedy Film Festival that year. (If Torbay sounds familiar it’s also the home of the town of Torquay, setting of John Cleese’s Pythonesque show Fawlty Towers.)
Life of Brian tells the story of one of Jesus’s less holy contemporaries, Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman), whose life inadvertently mirrors that of Christ. It contains some of the Pythons’ best bits: The People’s Front of Judea; haggling lessons; men-only stoning; Pontius Pilate’s “gweat fweind in Wome”; lessons in Latin grammar; and the Sermon on the Mount as misheard by the people in the back.
But perhaps the most defining moment in the film is Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, sung during the crucifixion scene. In 2014, it topped a list of Britain’s most popular funeral songs, suggesting that some fans were literally having the last laugh at the censors.
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