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Film / Holy Flying Circus

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A 90-minute, made-for-TV comedy film from 2011 focusing around the controversy that surrounded Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The film is based around real life events, and centres around an infamous television debate on the Friday Night, Saturday Morning show that John Cleese and Michael Palin participated in against prominent critic and broadcaster (and devout Anglo-Catholic) Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the then-Bishop of Southwark — both of whom, it later transpired, had missed the beginning of the film, in particular the scenes that make it explicit that Brian is not Jesus, and who spent more time during the actual debate making cheap jibes against the comedians rather than attempting to rebut their arguments. However, these events are depicted in an irreverent, surreal and — dare we say — Pythonesque fashion, interspersed with non sequiturs, sketches and animation.


This film contains examples of:

  • Actually, I Am Him: The interaction between Michael and the petitioner at the front door. Could also fall under Right in Front of Me.
    Petitioner: [persistently] Do you want to sign my petition?
    Michael: No.
    Petitioner: Why not?
    Michael: Because I'm not convinced the film should be banned.
    Petitioner: Why not? [sarcastically] Did you write it?
    Michael: Uh, yes.
    • And then the petitioner starts grilling him as if Michael's been trying to conceal his identity:
      Petitioner: Oh, I see — you're one of them.
      Michael: It's not Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
      Petitioner: [Dramatically] Deny it if you can, you're one of them!
      Michael: Why would I deny it? I just told you.
      Petitioner: You can't! You can't deny it!
      Michael: I don't want to deny it.
      Petitioner: You see?!
      Michael: I do see, because I just told you.
      Petitioner: You're one of them!
  • An Insert: The signing of the wills.
    • Notably, none of the signatures mimic the original Pythons' and Rufus Jones/ Terry Jones' signature is not shown being signed as Rufus is left-handed, which would have made the angle impossible to shoot.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Andrew Thorogood, the leader of the Christian protesters during Michael's extended dream sequence.
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  • Apologises a Lot: Michael, The Nicest Man In The World. Also: Self-Deprecation. Both directly referenced on several occasions, including the declaration by Terry Gilliam that Michael is "Even self-deprecating about being self-deprecating."
  • A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: When discussing the booking of Malcolm Muggeridge to debate the Pythons, Alan Dick refers to his unpredictability using the phrase "he's a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a shit".
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The secretary of the BBC Head of Rude Words manages to make it through him reading out such terms such as 'cunt', 'motherfucker', 'tits' and 'shit', albeit with both of them squirming with embarrassment the whole time, but it's when 'winkie-woo' pops up that she reaches her breaking point and asks to just type it from the piece of paper.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Done epically. "Y'know what I love about BBC Four? No-one gives a fuck!"
  • Brawn Hilda: Jones the Wife, at once Played for Laughs and yet oddly sympathetically when the acknowledgement of her masculinity (on account of the fact she is played by the Terry Jones character in drag) is made.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Michael, while the church group burns his effigy in the front garden.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Terry Gilliam keeps going into daydreams that are structured like his famous animations.
  • The Confidant: Jones the Wife, for Michael. Depicted in their bedtime chats.
  • Cringe Comedy: The poor BBC Head of Rude Words, an extremely bashful man who has to read out a list of extremely offensive banned terms to his secretary. And then realizes afterwards that he could have just given her the piece of paper with them on and saved them the embarrassment.
  • Daydream Surprise: Michael's fantasy during the Friday Night, Saturday Morning sequence.
  • Deranged Animation: Inevitably, in homage to the real Terry Gilliam:
    • The Pythons sit around a table in Hell, discussing despicable scenes for potential inclusion in Life of Brian, with Satan.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Graham, of course, smokes his nigh on constantly.
  • Divided We Fall: The ongoing conflict of opinion between John and Michael as to whether the Pythons should appear on 'Friday Night, Saturday Morning' to defend their film.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Michael and John get absolutely mauled by Malcolm Muggeridge and Meryvn Stockwood on the program, but the fact that they've clearly prepared for a debate and are cordially and reasonably trying to make some valid arguments in the face of the swaggering, condescending arrogance represented by Muggeridge and Stockwood serves to convince those watching that they're ultimately in the right.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: One animation sequence has Graham being set on fire by Satan for being too blasphemous.
    • For a given value of 'evil' (they're certainly antagonists throughout the film), on watching the debate the religious protesters who have been hounding the Pythons throughout the movie are absolutely appalled by the smug, confrontational and intolerant fashion in which Muggeridge and Stockwood conduct themselves against John and Michael.
  • Everybody Smokes
  • Exact Eavesdropping:
    John, to Michael: Why can't I say things to offend you? Why can't I say, 'I don't like your hair' or 'Your wife looks like a man and makes fucking awful soup?' What is the worst that could happen?
    Jones the Wife: [appears at the door to the room; after some small talk, closes the conversation with] Sure I can't get you anything? Glass of cordial? [manly voice] Spot of soup?
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Alan Dick is essentially a stereotypical 1980s fast-talking hard-hitting style TV executive (complete with pastel suits) who's been dropped into a slightly stodgy 1970s TV environment, as represented by the long-suffering Harry Balls.
  • Friendship Moment: "I do... love you, M-Mike."
  • Gender Bender: As a shout out to the Pythons themselves playing a lot of the female roles they write, Jones the Wife, Michael Palin's spouse, is played by Rufus Jones-as-Terry Jones. Accordingly, she is acknowledged as being masculine in appearance and interest, but referred to continuously as female.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Michael and Jones the Wife clearly have a very active sex life.
  • Happily Married: The Palins.
  • Hollywood Tourette's: Desmond Lovely has a case of this, although he also tends to use it as an excuse to get away with insulting Andrew Thorogood when Thorogood is being particularly obnoxious.
  • Hypocritical Humor: John is incredibly contrarian and will switch sides to oppose anyone else. He also has a tendency to rewrite history and his own opinions.
    • Andrew Thorogood frequently asserts that he 'hates conflict', yet is the driving antagonist behind most of the conflict we see arising in the film (or at least represents it). This leads to something of a Heel–Face Turn at the end when, having been sickened by the side that's supposed to be representing him in the debate, he resolves to catch the next screening of Life Of Brian as soon as possible and make up his own mind about it for once.
  • Imagine Spot: After the interview, Michael angrily gets into a cab where the driver recognises him... and begins complaining about how offended he was by Life of Brian, causing Michael to finally explode. It's revealed to be one of these when it cuts back to Michael sitting in the cab when the driver recognises him... and amiably says that Michael happens to be his wife's favourite of the Pythons.
  • Insult Backfire: Michael to John:
    Michael: ...and you're the most disrespectful, disagreeable, obnoxious and annoying man in the world.
    John: That's right! And I fought very hard for that title... wasn't easy to wrest it away from Michael Winner...
  • Intro Dump: The opening scene at the Distributor's office.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Alan Dick gets this response when he basically describes how he wants to invent the 'water-cooler moment' effect. Except he's not helped by the fact that water-coolers themselves haven't been invented, meaning he's forced to refer to it as the substantially less impressive 'water-jug moment'. Or by the fact that his show is called Friday Night, Saturday Morning and is shown on Friday nights, and most people wouldn't be working on Saturdays anyway.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Jones the Wife's masculinity is referenced several times, to the point where it becomes a Running Gag.
  • Large Ham: Alan Dick, BBC Head of Talk.
  • Loads and Loads of Roles: In classic Python tradition, several of the actors (both main and minor) play more than one role.
  • The Magazine Rule: Jones the Wife reading 'The Cricketer' in bed.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Terry Gilliam, completely naked except for a baby's head mask and a tie, during Michael's dream sequence.
  • Moral Guardians: Naturally, a large chunk of the film is devoted to taking the piss out of them, mostly by giving them fairly devastating speech impediments.
  • Mr. Imagination: Terry Gilliam and his animated thought processes.
  • N-Word Privileges: The other Pythons appear to have this regarding Graham Chapman's homosexuality.
  • Nice Guy: Michael, of course.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Michael's extended dream sequence.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Arguably subverted - the film is expected to be accepted in France and America, but the Americans protested it strongly and the film itself went on to be regarded as one of the best British films ever made.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Michael is presented as The Nicest Man In The World throughout the entire movie, which is mostly light-hearted. The debate, in which he is more angry than the other Pythons have ever seen him before, is correspondingly the most serious part of the film.
  • Only in It for the Money: Eric Idle, apparently.
  • Precision F-Strike: Mild-mannered Michael in the initial taxi sequence.
  • Right in Front of Me: The interaction between Michael and the petitioner at the front door. Could also fall under Actually, I Am Him.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: Jones the Wife. "Don't ask me, darling, I'm just a pwetty face."
  • Shout-Out: Plenty to Monty Python and the other works that the Pythons were involved in:
    • John's general depiction in the film is more Basil Fawlty than the real John Cleese. Of particular note is the scene where he ends up attacking a newspaper vendor with a tree branch after an argument, followed by a 'Party Political Broadcast by John Cleese on behalf of John Cleese' where he explains that the real John Cleese is much nicer.
      • His argumentative nature is also often conveyed as him automatically responding to anything anyone says or suggests with a blunt, contrary response — as his character in The Argument Sketch did.
    • Terry Gilliam's appearance in Michael's dream naked except for a baby mask alludes to Brazil.
    • Rufus Jones playing Terry Jones playing Jones the Wife is a rather recursive reference to the way that the Pythons would play a lot of their female characters (often referred to as 'Pepperpots').
    • One of the things that Michael Palin list as things they are fighting let people make jokes about is "Muhammad in a bear suit", a reference to the infamous South Park episode, "200".
    • When listing things that have gotten people worked up and outraged for making jokes about and parodying 'sensitive' subjects at the end, God brings up The Satanic Verses, Jerry Springer: The Opera, Danish cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, South Park and Richard Dawkins.
  • Speech Impediment: Desmond Lovely, Gareth Nice, and Terry Jones.
  • Supporting Protagonist: While the movie is about the Pythons as a group, most of the movie focusses on Michael Palin with John Cleese as a secondary character, and the others are mainly treated as this. However, the film frequently uses their actors in other roles as their original sketch show did, the implication being that the other Pythons are playing these parts (for example, Palin's wife is played by Rufus Jones as Terry Jones).
  • Take Our Word for It: Desmond's Tourettes outburst at the BBC office, during the meeting with Alan Dick.
  • The Drag-Along: John, who is acknowledged as being a contrarian and almost invariably in opposition if opposition is there to be represented.
  • Those Two Guys: Desmond Lovely and Gareth Nice, the Christian protestors who each have speech impediments.
  • Trouble Follows You Home: The Christian protestors appearing in both John and Michael's front gardens during the course of the film.
  • TV Telephone Etiquette: The conversation between Michael and his mother, Mrs. Palin.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Alan Dick's introduction scene, where he announces that things are gonna be very different now that he's replacing the unseen and apparently deceased 'Trevor', is played like this. Except he forgets to tell the people he's talking to who he actually is, so their response is more one of confusion than anything else.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Jones the Wife.


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