SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Monday, 12 December 2011

No Life For Brian - BBC4 Drama HOLY FLYING CIRCUS would fail to get a laugh from a dead parrot, let alone me!

The 'Monty Python in trouble'-remembering BBC4 drama Holy Flying Circus the other night was pretty dull and threw in everything but the kitchen sink, although the kitchen sink would have gotten a bigger laugh, spent less time trying hard to be funny and been a whole lot less trying all round.

This drama just made me want to pull a knotted up head hanky down over my eyes and go to sleep. It was sort of clever with the cast all being ok at being Pythons; Steve Punt as Eric Idle was really good, and Charles Edwards as Palin was fine - really fine, but the rest were all a bit 'blah'! It tried to be everything that Python was - chaotic and surreal, poignant and mad. But ended up being none of the above. Python lived it - lived through it, this drama just wanted to be it. Like a jealous younger sister.

Life of Brian was never as blasphemous as the critics at the time thought, as the highbrows wanted it to be. It was a film never about Jesus, as many who hadn't seen the movie thought - just the bloke who was born next door to him on the same day!

Impersonating comedy heroes and exploring their genius and their occasional failings is often an entirely enlightening and enriching idea - when done well. David Benson, say, as Kenneth Williams in his acclaimed one man show; the tour de force of Think No Evil Of Us - explored the Williams persona and hang-ups to heartbreaking and hilarious effect. Not tribute, not pastiche, but a resurrection of the soul as a farewell wave or as an affectionate sneer; as a kind of goodbye and a way to understanding the man we loved a little better.

As I sat watching Holy Flying Circus I longed to watch some Python reruns again as therapy, or the film Life of Brian again or perhaps my favourite of the other (sort of) Python movies; the rarely spotted Jabberwocky. Just to make myself remember that the Pythons were never as dull and contrived as they were being portrayed here.

Johnny Vegas as Les Dawson in the recent Radio 4 play; David Walliams as Frankie Howerd in the BBC 4 drama Rather You Than Me (a role also perfected by David Benson) and Daniel Rigby as Eric and Bryan Dick as Ernie in the BBC's controversial (but not quite reaching Life of Brian levels) Eric & Ernie - to me, are classics of portrayal rather than pastiche; they capture the character and make it their own; let us live a life through the talents of the people they are becoming; like real mediums, not in fake showmanship.

Life of Brian sparked the BBC TV set-up show, Friday Night, Saturday Morning where Palin and Cleese shared the debating stage with broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge and a pent-up and wrathful Bishop of Southwark, hosted by the meek and merciful Tim Rice. The original TV debate which inspired Holy Flying Circus was effortlessly funnier in concept than any dramatical reconstruction could ever hope to be. From the outset; Holy Flying Circus was at a disadvantage. Rather like Brian in the stable next to Jesus - there was no comparison to be had.

words: mark gordon palmer


  1. Crumbs. No wonder it doesn't seem to be coming to the US. Nobody's even talking about it here!

    1. It's a bit difficult satirising anything that already exists as satire anyway, and I think this BBC drama may have been better playing it straight - but I'm prepared to watch it again to be sure I didn't make a bad judgment here! It was kind of fun at times, certainly worth it for Steve Punt's Eric Idle, in the same way 'Hitchcock' was worth it, in ticket price alone, for the brief outstanding performance of James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, that brought a warm glow to the heart!