Many have adapted the myth of King Arthur into movies. But how many contained killer rabbits, ‘flesh wounds’ and instructions for Holy Hand Grenades?
1975 was a watershed period for Monty Python, the famous British surrealist comedy troupe. They have enjoyed a long and popular run on TV with Flying Circus, their skit show. But by the mid-Seventies things had become strained, John Cleese exited the TV production and the Pythons appeared at an end.
It must have seemed that Monty Python was dead – and at a point where they were mostly only famous in the U.K. Then they embarked on an epic adventure: the Holy Grail. Not just any holy grail, but the transition from TV to movies.
You know the story: King Arthur and his knights are on a quest to find the Holy Grail, seen as a holy symbol that would show Arthur’s right to being the true king. Only in this version God quite literally tells Arthur to do it – after berating him for all the dreary religious songs everyone keeps singing.
Many would argue – and I am prone to agree – that Life of Brian was the best Monty Python film. But Holy Grail came first. Also, Holy Grail stays much closer to the skit culture of the Flying Circus years. Though the story is about Arthur, it is very loose. there is no Merlin, Guinevere or sword in a stone.
Instead the Pythons created a pastiche of loose Arthurian elements and a lot of skit humour Virtually every scene is a self-contained gag, allowing the movie to have a lot of range: negotiating with a body collector on whether an elderly man is actually dead, fighting a black knight who doesn’t know when to quit, the scientific method of identifying a witch, debates about swallows and coconuts, the world’s worst maiden rescue, arguing with peasants over the proper forms of government, how to find a good shrubbery…
Nearly every scene in Holy Grail has become a comedy classic. You could almost say that it has contributed more to the popular repertoire of the Pythons than their TV series.
The impact of this is evident in modern culture: from the Holy Hand Grenade in Worms to Adventure Time spoofing the never-say-die Black Knight to utterances of “Bloody peasant!”, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the grandest and most persistent contributions to modern culture.
This film also cemented Monty Python’s legacy: Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam both went on to forge the Python’s cinematic reputation, John Cleese did some of his best Python work, the late Graham Chapman’s greatness was evident despite ongoing alcohol problems and the films introduced entire generations to the world of Monty Python. All because a king went to go look for a cup.
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Last Updated: October 19, 2015