'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' - the Film
Created | Updated Dec 12, 2006
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After a brief, not entirely successful, flirtation with feature films with And Now For Something Completely Different, the Monty Python team were a little wary about embarking on another film project. As was often the case, Terry Jones was the most enthusiastic member of the group, driving the others along into producing a film script.
The original script of Holy Grail was set partly in medieval times and partly in the modern day, for several reasons. One of these was that the group's first idea was to have the knights look for the Grail in Harrod's department store in London. The other reason was one of cost - shooting a medieval costume piece would be far more expensive than using modern clothes and scenes. As it turned out, it was the need to restrict the costs that led to the film being entirely medieval. Obviously, the knights had to be riding horses. As the budget was never going to stretch to horses, with their associated handlers, trainers, stables and so on, it was decided that the knights would employ servants to bang coconut halves together to sound like hoofbeats. The team liked this idea so much that they were prepared to go along with Terry Jones' suggestion to replace almost all of the modern scenes with medieval ones.
In its finished form, the film contains many of the elements that made Python what it is: subverted opening credits, Terry Gilliam's animations, mixing of time periods, satire, cruelty to animals, silly accents and some good old fashioned smut. Python regulars Carol Cleveland and Neil Innes are also present, with Innes contributing the music to the film's two songs, 'Knights of the Round Table' and 'The Ballad of Sir Robin'.
The film tells the story of King Arthur who, together with his loyal servant, Patsy, gathers together a band of brave knights. After deciding not to go to the all-singing, all-dancing court at Camelot1, the knights are ordered by God to seek the Holy Grail. The quest gets off to a bad start when they are severely taunted by a French knight and forced to retreat. The knights split up to continue their quest, each of them facing terrible danger, be it in the form of a three-headed giant, the Knights Who Say 'Ni', a wedding reception or eight-score young blondes and brunettes all between sixteen and nineteen-and-a-half...
On being reunited, the knights meet a mysterious stranger known as Tim the Enchanter. He takes them to Cave of Caerbannog, which is guarded by one of the fiercest creatures ever to appear on film. After a little divine help, the knights reach the Gorge of Eternal Peril. The only way to cross is over the Bridge of Death, but to do so the knights must answer three questions. Those knights who survive the crossing find that the resting place of the Grail has been defiled by the French taunter and his allies, and so the final battle begins.
Threaded through the narrative is the remains of the original modern-day material, which involves a television historian being accidentally killed by a knight on horseback. The viewer catches occasional glimpses of the subsequent police investigation as the law edges closer and closer to the knights. The ending that results is usually seen as either the best or worst possible ending to any film ever, depending on your point of view.
Rather than have a director from outside the group, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam volunteered to direct the film, a decision that was to create a lot of tension between the Pythons. On Monty Python's Flying Circus, there was always someone else to blame. Now, the two Terrys seemed to be taking all the flak from the rest of the group. As an extra complication, the directing styles of the two co-directors didn't always gel perfectly, with Terry G wanting to place much more emphasis on the way the film looked, and Terry J more concerned simply with the lines and performances.
To make matters even worse, the weather on location in Scotland was terrible and it rained almost constantly. Morale was getting very low. Fortunately, Graham Chapman stepped in, took the entire cast and crew out for an evening and got them all drunk. The following day the first rushes2 of the film were seen and it became clear that it was going to be a success. From then on, things progressed much more smoothly.
From the moment of its release, Holy Grail was a great success. Importantly, it was released just as the Monty Python invasion of the USA was beginning. The film received enormous publicity in the States, with the team crossing the Atlantic for interviews and publicity stunts, including handing out coconuts to the first 500 audience members.
Overall, the only criticism that could really be levelled at Holy Grail is that it ends rather suddenly.