‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’: The Peak of British Comedy

By Sven Mikulec

Monty Python’s 1975 hilarious comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is now to be rereleased on its 40th anniversary, is a frequent inhabitant of a majority of best of lists and definitely one of the peaks of British comedy films of all time. This classic comedy’s development curve was nothing but a bumpy ride, as it remains a freakin’ miracle the comedic troupe managed to pull it off with regard to their financial situation at the time. No film studio was prepared to invest in their project, but the Pythons managed to make the best out of the fact that England had very high taxes for the rich at that specific time. Music stars tried to find a way to salvage their earnings, so the likes of Elton John, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin decided to invest in the picture. This, however, hardly means the crew had it easy. In the manner of John Carpenter, the undisputed king of crippling budget creativity, the Pythons not only managed to finish the film, but some of its most entertaining parts were given birth to by the evident lack of money. (The inspired but shockingly simple opening sequence with Swedish subtitles, the plywood 12-inch high model of Camelot and the legendary coconuts instead of real horses first come to mind.) Moreover, concerned “they wouldn’t respect the dignity of the fabric of the buildings,” the National Trust denied them access to many castles, forcing the Pythons to film all of the interior shots within one and the same location.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is practically a series of comedic sketches ranging from entertaining to bloody hilarious, set in the medieval times of King Arthur and his iconic Knights of the Round Table. Despite the fact the film was first envisioned as constantly shifting focus from past to present (with the Holy Grail eventually found at Harrods), the Pythons decided to set in entirely in the medieval period, spoofing one of the founding legends of the British Isles. Directed by the group’s two Terries, Gilliam and Jones, it features all of the troupe’s members in numerous different roles. In the years that followed its release, The Holy Grail became an endlessly quoted and most cherished piece of British cinema, opening the gates for this supremely talented group of comedians and presenting them to the rest of the world. There are more unforgettable parts of this film that we’re capable of mentioning in this piece. Considering the difficult circumstances in which the film was made, especially the financial hardship that forced the filmmakers to be as creative as possible, Monty Python and the Holy Grail deserves even more awe and recognition.

A monumentally important screenplay. Screenwriter must-read: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones & Michael Palin’s screenplay for Monty Python and the Holy Grail [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. You can also purchase Monty Python and the Holy Grail Limited Edition Castle Catapult Gift Set through Amazon. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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Terry Gilliam’s daugher Holly uncovers the gems of Terry Gilliam’s personal archive: “In one of the Monty Python boxes I came across more Python scripts, many of which were for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, titled ‘Monty Python’s Second Film. A First Draft’ and ‘The Quest for the Holy Grail—Monty Python’s Second Film’ together with several early draft scripts for various scenes in the film, some of which you may recognise, others of which never made it past the draft stages.”

In the original script, half the film was set in the middle ages and the other half in the 20th century. The story flipped about between them; at end of the first draft, the Holy Grail was discovered at Harrods department store, at the Holy Grail counter… because Harrods has everything. At the time, Terry Jones was working on his (Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary) book and thought it would be nice to keep it in middle ages, so they figured why not do the King Arthur story? —20 Facts About Monty Python and the Holy Grail



In August of 1974, eight months prior to its cinema release, a preview screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail—a painfully funny parody of the legend of King Arthur and the Python team’s second feature film—was attended by a member of the British Board of Film Classification, Tony Kerpel, who was there to offer some feedback in relation to its eventual rating. After the credits had rolled, an informal chat took place between Kerpel and one of the film’s producers, Mark Forstater, which resulted in this highly amusing letter being sent to fellow producer Michael White a few days later—its subject: dialogue cuts. —Letters of Note, I would like to retain ‘fart in your general direction’



Cleese was inspired to write the Black Knight scene from an elementary school story he remembered about two Roman wrestlers. During an extremely intense and scrappy match, one wrestler finally tapped out only to discover that his opponent had died during the struggle, meaning he had posthumously won the match. The moral of the story was that if you don’t give up you couldn’t possibly lose, which was an idea Cleese hated, so he lampooned the quasi-sadistic tale in the movie with supposedly noble knights. —15 Facts about Monty Python and the Holy Grail



To celebrate the 40th anniversary theatrical re-release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the release of the 40th anniversary Blu-Ray the official Monty Python YouTube channel recently put together this video of Terry Gilliam’s lost animations from the film. The video includes an introduction from Gilliam to his lost animation reel where he talks about where the artwork came from and the inspiration behind some of the animation, music by Neil Innes that didn’t make it into the final cut, new animations and deleted animations of ‘The Tale of Sir Robin,’ ‘Elephant & Castle,’ ‘Meanwhile, King Arthur & Sir Bedevere…,’ ‘Run Away!’ and ‘The Tale of Sir Lancelot.’



A look back at Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the impact it had on the future of comedy movies, courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.



Here’s a rarity: Monty Python and the Holy Grail Location Report—the BBC interviews the Python actors while they were filming Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974).

Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Courtesy of Everett Collection, John Downing/Getty Images, Ython Ppictures/Ronald Grant Archive. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.

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