From reading John Mallory’s Le Morte du Arthur to watching every episode of BBC’s Merlin, I have long been fascinated with the Arthurian legends. It should come as no surprise, then, that my favourite of the Monty Python film canon would be The Holy Grail. But it’s not just because of the themes that I love it so much. Yes, The Life of Brian may be the infamous and controversial one, with the ever popular Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, but the simple fact is, I find Monty Python and the Holy Grail the funniest.
The argument for The Holy Grail’s greatness can be made through the influence its many jokes have had on popular culture. Only this year, French fans at the World Cup were mocked with cries of “your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!” The musical adaptation, Spamalot, written primarily by Eric Idle, is a runaway theatre success, although it does omit some of the film’s greatest scenes due to the difficulty of rendering them on stage. The Black Knight is a cultural icon to rival any seen in the Monty Python canon. It ranks, along with Life of Brian, amongst the top five in almost all Best Comedy Films lists.
I remember first watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, having previously only seen the odd few Flying Circus sketches and John Cleese’s work in Fawlty Towers, and thinking it one of the most purely funny experiences of my life. I immediately followed by devouring every episode of Flying Circus, and the other Python films, and my sense of humour thanks me for it. It is a winning formula of intelligent writing and pure absurdity that no work before or since has ever matched, except the remainder of Monty Python’s oeuvre. With the final farewell of the legendary troupe today, minus the late Graham Chapman of course, it may be time to eat some elderberries, put on tap-dancing shoes, and run away to the DVD shelf like brave Sir Robin.