Many people have one film they can watch over and over again, without getting bored of it. For many people, this will be the film they watch when they’re feeling down or had a difficult day, and for me that is The Holy Grail.
Now, I’m a massive Python fan, even though they’re much before my time, I find their surreal brand of humour right up my street, and truth be told, I can watch any of their films over and over and never get bored, but for me, Holy Grail is their best work, by the slightest of margins.
I shall try and remain impartial as possible when reviewing this, but please bear in mind that I love it very dearly, and when cornered, I will randomly quote a line from the film, like a strange Monty Python skunk, you have been warned.
King Arthur (Chapman) sets out on a (very silly) odyssey to gather knights in a quest to find the Holy Grail. Along the way, they’ll be side-tracked by many distractions, and face great peril.
More than most genres, comedy is extremely subjective, what might be funny to one person might not be funny to someone else, and many people claim to not understand what makes Monty Python so funny, and these people are no fun to have around at parties.
The Holy Grail is so densely packed with memorable scenes and lines that it’s impossible to pick a favourite, is it the Knights Who Say Ni? Or the Witch Trial? Maybe it’s the Black Knight, who knows? All I know is even after so many years, this film still makes me laugh until my sides hurt.
The story of this films journey to the big screen is almost as interesting as the film itself, being setback by budget issues from the very beginning, and having to be bankrolled by some of their most famous fans; even the legendary ending is a consequence of the tight budget, they literally could not afford to film anything else, so they just stopped, ending the film completely out of left field in a way that only the Pythons can get away with.
So, what of the Pythons then? Well, all of them play several characters in this film, and each member has at least one memorable one, John Cleese even manages to have two, the lucky boy, but like any of their ventures, it’s clearly a team effort; they have a special kind of chemistry that has never been replicated anywhere else, I can only imagine how the script came about, they seem to spontaneously produce mirth like the brewing process produces Marmite.
This also serves as a nice genesis point for Terry Gilliam’s career as a director, setting the stage for all the surrealism he will produce in the future, one can argue that his entire career as a Python led him directly to his career behind the camera, but this is where his potential is realised.
It is rare for a comedy to have the cultural impact that Holy Grail has, they are rarely held in esteem in the same way as their more serious counterpoints, it’s impossible to predict what formula will work, but when it does work, it needs no explanation. They would find the right formula again for Life of Brian, which I find almost impossible to separate quality-wise from this, some days its my favourite, then this is. So maybe this rag-tag gang of very silly boys knew the secret to unlocking classic comedy, because they wouldn’t stop there.
The legacy of the troupe can be felt in sketch shows to this very day, their fingerprints have been all over sketch comedy for the past fifty years, they would bring the curtain down on their time together permanently in 2015, following a sell-out run at London’s O2 Arena, their place as all-time greats firmly set in stone.
Of The Holy Grail, it can be said that it is a true triumph over diversity, overcoming its monetary restraints and on-set mishaps to become one of the best-regarded comedy films of all-time, and it sits firmly in a list of my personal all-time favourites. There will never be another group quite like them, nor another film like The Holy Grail.