Holy Flying Circus: Essence of Python for the 21st Century

I tuned into Holy Flying Circus with high hopes and a fair smattering of trepidation. I have loved Python since I first encountered it. I can (but won’t, I promise) quote the funny bits for hours on end. I have had a crush on Michael Palin since I was a teenager. “Re-imagining” the events around the release of the funniest (and most thoughtful) thing the Pythons ever did, Life of Brian, could easily have gone horribly wrong.

Not only did it not go wrong, Holy Flying Circus soared – it was the essence of Monty Python distilled for the 21st Century. It managed not only to be funny and insightful, but also quite moving too. It may not have been true to the actual events, but it was certainly true to the spirit of Python.

Of all the Pythons, the two captured most brilliantly are Michael Palin (I can’t praise Charlie Edwards enough) and John Cleese (Darren Boyd channelling Basil Fawlty, which is weird but works). Oddly Rufus Jones most resembled Terry Jones when in drag as Michael’s wife.

I don’t want to spoil HFC for you if you haven’t already watched it, so much of the joy comes from the surprises. There’s a *thing* which is completely brilliant, completely Python and slightly Star Wars that comes from nowhere and made me hug myself tight with glee.

The tenderness between Michael and Jones the Wife is lovely, the sexiness is unexpected, and the thing with the dressing gown cord is still disturbing me slightly this afternoon.

On the other hand, any programme that gives us the line that ‘gays are the natural predators of Christians’ can only be a Good Thing.

And when we do get to the confrontation between Michael and John and Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, to say that Charlie Edwards nails it, is an understatement (right up to the point where it all gets a little … silly). Which is not to say that Darren Boyd doesn’t do a fantastic job as the Fawlty Cleese (I suspect this is deliberate on everyone’s part, by the way, and so not a criticism.)

That BBC 4 (which I hope will be adopting the motto “No one gives a fuck” as its new ident immediately) scheduled a reshowing of the original debate straight after Holy Flying Circus, was wonderful. I’ve seen clips of it – the undergraduate humour jibes, the ’30 pieces of silver’ line, Michael Palin so, so angry – but never the whole thing, and there was merit in hearing it all in context.

Holy Flying Circus will be on iPlayer for a bit, but it’s also repeated after Life of Brian on Saturday night (BBC4). Grab a bag of wolf nipple chips and enjoy.

Posted by Jo the Hat


Filed under Comedy

3 responses to “Holy Flying Circus: Essence of Python for the 21st Century

  1. marzillk

    It was brilliant, wasn’t it? I had read nothing about it in advance, so wasn’t expecting the Pythonesque surrealism, but it was exactly what was needed to show the surrealism of the reaction to Life of Brian. The casting was superb (Edwards and Boyd particularly) and it was just a total joy from start to finish. Plus it inspired us both to a Life of Brian quote duel, which can only be a good thing. As for anyone who didn’t like it, I have only one thing to say to them: “Splitters!”

  2. Paul

    Well, thanks to reading this, and the love for the show on the BBC Points of View website, I decided to watch this one, and I was so pleased I did.

    I liked the way it poked gentle fun at Python women by having Michael Palin’s wife and mum played by two of the people playing Python’s dressed up as women. Also the way that it was kinda about serious stuff (It’s a good point that, actually, the “Brian isn’t really Jesus” defence IS something of a cop out, since the Pythons did, really, amongst other things want to poke fun at religion in Life of Brian) without being itself terribly serious. Nice moments between the Cleese character and the Palin character.

    Darren Boyd was excellent (and I forgot that I already knew who he was, since I think he’s the best thing in the cancelled Alan Davies comedy, “Whites” – for some reason I always get him confused with one of the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, played by another actor called Boyd iirc)

    And it also reminded me of how I first heard of Life of Brian – back in 1981 or so, aged 10, when I used to regularly attend football matches, and in the player profiles in the programmes “favourite food, pre match rituals etc” pretty much every player without exception was saying that “Life of Brian” was their favourite film. At that stage, I think I was barely aware the the Pythons existed, and had no idea what this film could be, or why all the 20-something year old footballers thought it was so great.

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