Monty Python's Life of Brian, also known as Life of Brian, is a 1979 British comedy film starring and written by the comedy group Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin), and directed by Jones. It tells the story of Brian Cohen (played by Chapman), a young Jewish man who is born on the same day as, and next door to, Jesus Christ and is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah.
The film contains themes of religious satire that were controversial at the time of its release, drawing accusations of blasphemy and protests from some religious groups. Thirty-nine local authorities in the UK either imposed an outright ban, or imposed an X (18 years) certificate (effectively preventing the film from being shown, as the distributors said the film could not be shown unless it was unedited and carried the original AA (14) certificate). Some countries, including Ireland and Norway, banned its showing, with a few of these bans lasting decades. The film makers used such notoriety to benefit their marketing campaign, with posters stating "So funny it was banned in Norway!".
The film was a box-office success, grossing fourth-highest of any film in the UK in 1979 and highest of any British film in the United States that year. It has remained popular since then, receiving positive reviews. The film received a 96% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus "One of the more cutting-edge films of the 1970s, this religious farce from the classic comedy troupe is as poignant as it is funny and satirical", and it was named "greatest comedy film of all time" by several magazines and television networks. It is the first Monty Python film to receive an R rating in the United States.
Brian Cohen is born in a stable a few doors from the one in which Jesus is born, which initially confuses the three wise men who come to praise the future King of the Jews. Brian grows up an idealistic young man who resents the continuing Roman occupation of Judea. While attending Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Brian becomes infatuated with an attractive young rebel, Judith. His desire for her and hatred for the Romans lead him to join the People's Front of Judea (PFJ), one of many fractious and bickering independence movements, who spend more time fighting each other than the Romans.
After several misadventures, and escaping from Pontius Pilate, the fugitive winds up in a line-up of would-be mystics and prophets who harangue the passing crowd in a plaza. Forced to come up with something plausible in order to blend in and keep the guards off his back, Brian babbles pseudo-religious truisms, and quickly attracts a small but intrigued audience. Once the guards have left, Brian tries to put the episode behind him, but he has unintentionally inspired a movement. He grows frantic when he finds that some people have started to follow him around, with even the slightest unusual occurrence being hailed as a "miracle". After slipping away from the mob, Brian runs into Judith, and they spend the night together. In the morning, Brian opens the curtains to discover an enormous crowd of people outside his mother's house, all proclaiming him to be the Messiah. Brian's mother protests: "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy". Brian finds himself unable to change their minds, because his every word and action are immediately seized as points of doctrine.
Neither can the hapless Brian find solace back at the PFJ's headquarters, where people fling their afflicted bodies at him demanding miracle cures. After sneaking out the back, Brian finally is captured and scheduled to be crucified. Meanwhile, a huge crowd has assembled outside the palace. Pilate (together with the visiting Biggus Dickus) tries to quell the feeling of revolution by granting them the decision of who should be pardoned. The crowd, however, simply shouts out names containing the letter "r", in order to mock Pilate's speech impediment. Eventually, Judith appears in the crowd and calls for the release of Brian, which the crowd echoes, since the name contains the letter "r". Pilate then agrees to "welease Bwian".
The order from Pilate is eventually relayed to the guards, but in a moment parodying the climax of the film Spartacus, various crucified people all claim to be "Brian of Nazareth" (one man shouting "I'm Brian and so's my wife") and the wrong man is released. Various other opportunities for a reprieve for Brian are denied as, one by one, his "allies" (including Judith and his mother) step forward to explain why they are leaving the "noble freedom fighter" hanging in the hot sun. Hope is renewed when the Judean People's Front come charging towards the Romans, but as a political statement they intentionally commit suicide rather than concentrating their efforts in liberating Brian and his fellow sufferers. Condemned to a long and painful death, Brian finds his spirits lifted by his fellow sufferers, who break into song with "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life".
A list of all the characters given actual names in the script, or with a spoken role. All names and character descriptions are taken from the published script. Each Python (especially Terry Gilliam) also played various bystanders and hangers-on. The Pythons themselves are listed first (in alphabetical order) followed by the rest of the cast in order of appearance.
- John Cleese – Reg, the High priest, Centurion of the Yard, Deadly Dirk, Arthur, 1st wise man
- Terry Gilliam – Another person further forward (at Mount – "Do you hear that? 'Blessed are the Greek'!"), Blood and Thunder prophet, Geoffrey, Gaoler, Frank
- Eric Idle – Mr Cheeky, Stan/Loretta, Harry the Haggler, Culprit woman who casts first stone, Intensely dull youth, Otto, Gaoler's assistant, Mr Frisbee III.
- Terry Jones – Brian Cohen's Mother(Mandy), Colin, Simon the Holy Man, Saintly passer-by, Bob Hoskins (man in crowd)
- Michael Palin – Mr Big Nose, Francis, Mrs A, Ex-leper, Ben, Pontius Pilate, Boring Prophet, Eddie, Nisus Wettus, 3rd wise man
- Kenneth Colley – Jesus Christ
- Neil Innes – A weedy Samaritan
- Gwen Taylor – Mrs Big Nose, Woman with sick donkey, young girl
- Terence Baylor – Gregory, Dennis
- Carol Cleveland – Mrs Gregory, Elsie
- Charles McKeown – Man further forward (at Mount), Stig, Blind Man, False Prophet, Giggling Guard
- Sue Jones-Davies – Judith Iscariot
- John Young – Matthias
- Bernard McKenna – Stoner's Helper, Parvus
- Spike Milligan – Spike
- George Harrison – Mr Papadopoulos (uncredited)
Several characters are never named during the film but do have names that are used in the tracklisting for the soundtrack album and elsewhere. There is no mention in the film of the fact that Eric Idle's ever-cheerful joker is called 'Mr. Cheeky', or that the Roman guard played by Michael Palin is named 'Nisus Wettus'.
Spike Milligan plays a prophet, ignored because his acolytes are chasing after Brian. By coincidence he was visiting his old World War II battlefields in Tunisia where the film was being made. The Pythons were alerted to this one morning and he was promptly included in the scene that just happened to be being filmed. He disappeared again in the afternoon before he could be included in any of the close-up or publicity shots for the film.