Controversy is a funny thing. Back in 1979, Monty Python’s ribald spin on Bible lore had the church crying blasphemy, Mary Whitehouse spitting blood and local councils lining up to ban it. Four years ago, though, no one turned a hair when it was cheekily re-released to cash in on the furore surrounding The Passion Of The Christ. When The Life of Brian was first unveiled, the notion of a chorus of crucified Christians singing ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ appeared the height of tastelessness. Now, as part of the Spamalot musical score, it’s the nightly cue for a singalong – an upbeat number divorced from its satirical context that’s lapped up by West End coach parties.
Watching this overdue Special Edition, though, you can still detect what got everyone so worked up, even if its most contentious element – Otto the militant Zionist with his Swastika-style Star of David – remains safely confined to the deleted scenes. There’s a thin line between mocking religion and mocking faith, and there are times the Pythons come perilously close to the latter. (Their target, of course, is blind faith – the kind which sees Graham Chapman’s hapless hero proclaimed as the Messiah when the real one is just round the corner.) Nor does every joke hit home (Spike Milligan oddly, corpses?), despite a consistently high strike rate that puts this on a par with Holy Grail as the team’s best big-screen foray.
For the most part, though, there’s little here to make one query the ‘greatest comedy ever’ accolade we gave it back in 2000. And while we’d have liked five remaining Pythons record a chat-track together, rather than have their individual remarks spliced into two competing commentaries, this two-discer remains an indispensable purchase – not least due to a 60-minute Story Of Brian doc charting the film’s rocky journey in exhaustive detail, some amusing radio spots and a rare 1977 recording of a full script read-through.