Monty Python And The Holy Grail – A British Film Icon
In what became one of the most iconic comedies in film history, the British comedy crew known as Monty Python takes on the legends of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Charged by God (who appears as a cartoonish animation in the clouds) to locate and obtain the Holy Grail, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) must gather a team of loyal knights to overcome a series of ridiculous mystical and medieval obstacles.
The film is organized into cinematic chapters that serve as little vignettes for each of the knights and their respective tales of bravery and, in this comedic take, shenanigans. As Arthur gradually joins forces with the likes of Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones), Sir Lancelot (John Cleese), Sir Galahad (Michael Palin) and Sir Robin (Eric Idle), their quest is continually delayed and thwarted by a combination of utterly absurd situations and their own incompetence.
As fans of Monty Python are accustomed to, Holy Grail offers that unique and perfect brand of so-called “British comedy” that’s so difficult to describe or imitate. It’s simple but clever, self-deprecating and satirical, and above all just delightfully silly. One wonders how the medieval era was ever taken seriously after watching Arthur and his knights bang coconuts together to simulate the sound of horse hooves; argue with peasants and opposing knights about everything from medieval politics to bird migration; and attempt heroic deeds with remarkable clumsiness.
Ultimately, this is the film that sets Monty Python apart, lifting them above the sort of cult status enjoyed by some comedic cinema groups (such as the more modern Broken Lizard) and immortalizing their best work. Indeed, not only does every moment of Holy Grail’s comedy still hold up beautifully nearly 40 years after the film was made (just think about how rare it is that comedy stays fresh that long), but the film remains prevalent in pop culture.
The clearest example of the movie’s lasting impact is in the enduring popularity of Spamalot, the musical comedy based on the film. Conceived and written largely by Eric Idle of Monty Python, Spamalot opened in 2005 and made over $175 million in its first run on stage. The show continues to tour today and, despite its own status as a spinoff of the movie, has even inspired other spinoffs into other areas of pop culture. They have most notably occurred in gaming.
The fact that musicals and games based on Holy Grail remain popular so long after the film’s initial release says all you need to know about this one-of-a-kind comedy. Relishing their low-budget filmmaking style and taking delight in the absurdity they attach to medieval legends, Monty Python created a short, sweet movie filled with both situational humor and scripted jokes that are as funny now as they were in 1975.
Written by: Harrison Miles, a freelance film writer based out of New York. A longtime Monty Python fan, he’s always looking for new ways to write about their work.
Above: “We are the knights who say ni!” — From Monty Python And The Holy Grail
Above: “What is your quest?” — From Monty Python And The Holy Grail
Above: “Silly English Kniggits!” — From Monty Python And The Holy Grail