The extraordinary thing about the Monty Python crew’s first proper film (we don’t count 1971’s stilted sketch round-up ‘And Now For Something Completely Different’) isn’t how funny it remains 40 years on – though it is stupidly, ingeniously funny. No, what’s most striking is how unnecessarily gorgeous it is. Wreathed in Scottish mist, shot through with shafts of golden light and drenched in authentic medieval mud, there are moments where it feels like Tarkovsky with drag and farting. At a time when the cutting edge of TV-to-film adaptations was ‘Mutiny on the Buses’, making a film this lovely was a bold move.
It may lack the authority-baiting, satire-with-a-purpose edge of ‘Life of Brian’, but ‘Holy Grail’ is the looser, sillier, ultimately funnier film, packed with actual goofy laughs rather than hey-I-get-that cleverness. It’s aged better too, less beholden to outdated notions of race and revolutionary politics and more reliant on slapstick violence, sudden explosions, surrealist wordplay and scatological asides.
Some of it does feel a bit creaky: Python’s eternal problem with women is particularly acute here, and the ‘stop that!’ ending feels like a better idea on paper than in practice. But if you’ve not seen it on the big screen, you’d be an empty-headed animal food-trough-wiper not to.