Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)


I don’t even know where to start with this film, but “one of the funniest movies of all time” is a pretty good jumping off point. I generally deny all ties to my English background. (Example: I go for Australia in Ashes Cricket.) The only part I cannot avoid of my pommy heritage is their sense of humour, and the fact that I hate Germany. I find the randomness of Monty Python hilarious, and while people will claim Life of Brian is their best work, I still find Holy Grail to be superior. Considering the movie is 40 years old this year and is still incredibly funny, says a lot about is longevity, and how ahead of the game the Monty Python crew were.

Monty Python’s first live action film takes aim at the tale of King Arthur’s search for the holy grail, and makes it as silly as possible. Most of the characters are played by the Monty Python comedy group (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam). Each member’s main role is a knight of the round table, except Gilliam who gets stuck playing Arthur’s man servant Patsy. This film is pretty much a collection of sketches set during Medieval times, strung together to move the story of Arthur’s (Chapman) assembling of his knights of the round table, and their subsequent journey to claim the Holy Grail. The plot is thin, but it is really just an excuse to let six comedic geniuses run amok, which they gleefully do.

There are so many moments to talk about in this movie that are side splitting funny. From the black knight duel to French insulters, there are laughs aplenty in this film. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be early on in the film when Arthur gets into a debate with two peasants about how his power was attained. That scene always cracks me up no matter how many times I see it. There is also this awesome musical number that introduces us to the wonderful world of Camelot. If there is a negative for this film, it is that it tends to drag on in the middle and it ends very abruptly. It would be really weird if the movie wasn’t so random the whole way through. The abrupt ending kind of fits with the tone of the film. From the knights who say ‘Ni’ to the ‘Bring out your dead’ cart, Monty Python deliver side splitting laughs from beginning to end. When you are talking about comedies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail needs to be in every ‘best of’ conversation, if not at the top of the list.

This movie recently took on even more significance for me. I have just finished reading a book called Ready Player One (it’s great, check it out if you haven’t already). The finale of the book includes references to The Holy Grail. The lead character has to recite the entire script in a simulator in order to unlock a treasure. This is a challenge I would gladly accept, the only down point would be that he loses points if he laughs. This is something I would definitely struggle not to do.

I really struggle sometimes when reviewing a movie that is really good. It is so easy to pick apart bad movies and explain why they suck, but there is only so many ways you can say ‘this movie is awesome, just go and see it’. I think I’ve made my point though, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is awesome, just go and see it.

Rating: A

My introduction to Monty Python was probably similar to most Americans in the pre-BBC America era. Reruns of Flying Circus were broadcast via our local PBS station, sandwiched between programs like The Joy of Painting and Antiques Roadshow. As with so many of the TV shows and movies I now love, Monty Python is also a favorite of my dad. He turned on the TV one day, said, “Hey, this dead parrot sketch is classic. You should watch this,” and the rest was history.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail was my first experience with feature length British quirk. I didn’t see the movie until high school, when some friends in a different class were tasked with creating a Python-style video about a historical event. My best friend at the time hated the movie. She hated the coconuts, she hated the Knights who say Ni, she hated Terry Gilliam’s cartoons. Listening to her rail against British humour in general and this movie in particular peaked my interest. I found the TV show to be hilarious, surely she was wrong about this movie?

Yep, she absolutely was. Maybe that’s why we’re no longer friends. (JK, we’re no longer friends for much less trivial reasons.) Monty Python and the Holy Grail is pure genius. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The Holy Grail takes the legend of King Arthur and injects a huge dose of surrealist comedy into the story. There isn’t much you can do with the King Arthur legend that hasn’t already been done, which is what makes The Holy Grail so special. It’s one of the few comedic adaptations that I can think of. But even at its most ridiculous you can still sense a deep respect for the source material. King Arthur is, after all, one of Britain’s legendary heroes, a revered piece of folklore and inspiration for countless stories, books, poems, songs, films… This is just one of the many ways his tale has been brought to the masses over the centuries.

That said, there is a great deal of mockery in this movie, though I feel it pokes more fun at the troupe’s contemporaries than at the Arthurian legend itself. One of my favorite moments is when King Arthur (Graham Chapman) is explaining who he is to a group of peasants. These commoners are not having any of it, insisting that they didn’t vote for Arthur to be king and that being presented with a sword by a lady in a lake is “no way to run a government.” This is clearly a jab at the modern monarchy, which was struggling to define its relevance during the 1970s (they still have trouble with this today).

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a rare comedy that has held up in the decades since its release. At times it’s just so absurd that you can’t help but laugh, followed by a witty exchange of dialogue that displays just how intelligent comedians really are. Like the Arthurian legend itself, this movie continues to inspire and tickle modern audiences. Simple state, it’s a classic.

Rating: A

One thought on “Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

  1. Pingback: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

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