Life Of Brian

Life Of Brian

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Banned in various parts of the world for many years because it was considered blasphemous, Life Of Brian seems to have suffered from the same problems with mistaken identity as its hero, though, unlike him, it admittedly set out to offend. Despite the hype, though, it's not about Jesus Christ, but about the man who was born in the stable next door to his, inadvertently visited by the three wise men and subject to similar misunderstandings throughout his adult life.

It must be difficult growing up in an occupied country when your mother is a shrewish Terry Jones, always busy entertaining soldiers, and you never knew your father. Brian doesn't like the fact that people say his nose looks Roman - he's proud to be Judean - so one night he creeps into the town square to write anti-Roman graffiti, which leads to him finding a place within a separatist group. Heavily factionalised and more likely to attack each other than the official enemy, though most of what they do is argue, these groups are a beautifully judged parody of many fringe left-wing organisations. Brian is not wholly taken in, but sticks around because of a girl, and gradually gets into more and more trouble.

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With much stronger characterisation than previous Python outings, and with a terrific performance from Graham Chapman in the lead, Life Of Brian manages to go beyond mere satire and silliness to tell a story that has power of its own, in the process making some sharp points about people's attitudes to religion.

The Judea it paints is a country on the edge of revolution, just looking for the right leader. At one point we see Jesus preaching, but he is just one among many. The concerns that drive people's day to day lives are far from spiritual. When Brian inadvertently acquires an army of followers, he's aware that they're just pursuing the latest fad - but to the Romans, of course, he's a troublemaker, and they are forced to act.

With each of the Pythons playing several different parts, Life Of Brian is also an opportunity for them to show off what they learned at school, with jokes about Latin grammar sitting alongside a lot of very silly innuendo. As with their other historical work, this probably presents a much more realistic vision of the past than most 'serious' productions, since everything is filthy and most people live their lives knowing little of what's going on around them. All this clumsiness and silliness serves to make the brutal realities of the period seem far crueller - it restores humanity to a period usually thought of as very distant.

Enormously funny but with a bravely downbeat ending, this is a film that shows far more concern for its audience than did those who tried to ban it.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2009
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Inadvertently mistaken for Jesus at his birth, the innocent Brian is doomed to a lifetime of misunderstandings.
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Director: Terry Jones

Writer: Graham Chapman, John Cleese

Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Sue Jones-Davies, Terence Bayler, Carol Cleveland, Kenneth Colley

Year: 1979

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

Tribeca 2015

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