Screen Reviews

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Directed by Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam

Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin


Some of the best movies come from the smallest budgets. No horses? A lovely bunch of coconuts will do nicely. Not enough money to pay for a crowd scene? Put all those mysterious people in the credits on camera and let it roll. No make up? Try dirt. It’s what everyone wore in the middle ages anyway. Good king Arthur (Graham Chapman) rides up and down his unhygienic kingdom seeking knights good and true. Why is he king? Because he doesn’t have shit all over him. Some knights make the cut, and others just get cut up, but that’s the executive recruiting game in 932 AD. When his round table is full, a grumpy God sends them all on a quest – a quest to seek that missing piece of tableware known as the Holy Grail. It’s gone missing since that dinner party last Thursday a few centuries ago, and he’d like to have it back. So off they go – Sir Robin (Eric Idle) to avoid confrontation, Sir Bedever (Terry Jones) to apply scholastic logic to witchcraft, Arthur to install shrubbery, and good Sir Galahad (Michael Palin) to nearly face temptation. It’s and epic story, fraught with animation (by Terry Gilliam) and evil bunny rabbits.

Despite a few added scenes and a slightly cleaner soundtrack, you must still listen hard to catch the jokes. There is that strong Cambridge accent to dig through, and most of the jokes are really commentary on mid-‘70s British society. Still, it’s the over-arching silliness that makes this a comedy classic – French people shaking their privates at the overly serious questors, a frou-frou dance number in chain mail, and pseudo Swedish subtitles about a moose. It’s not that easy to catch everything on the first viewing, but unlike many comedies, this one gets better each time you watch it. It’s an absurdist, surreal film dripping with self-reference. Obviously, there was no marketing research focus group guiding its development – Grail is the combined vision of a comedy troupe with only its own worldview to satisfy. That’s why it takes a while to appreciate, and why it’s so funny. You ultimately must enter the minds of the Pythons to see why hitting a plague victim in the head is funny, why a limbless knight (John Cleese) who won’t give up the fight is silly, and how a convent full of horny girls all begging to be spanked is a social commentary on, well, something. It’s never heartwarming, never correct, and no animals were allowed to talk in the making of this film – Holy Grail is worth the quest.

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