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Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Title: Monty Python and the Holy Grail  
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Collection: 1970S Adventure Films, 1970S Comedy Films, 1970S Fantasy Films, 1975 Films, Arthurian Film and Television, British Adventure Films, British Comedy Films, British Fantasy Films, British Films, Directorial Debut Films, Emi, English-Language Films, Fantasy-Comedy Films, Films Directed by Terry Gilliam, Films Directed by Terry Jones, Films Set in 932, Films Set in the 10Th Century, Films Shot in Scotland, Films with Live Action and Animation, God Portrayed in Fiction, Metafictional Films, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python Films, Screenplays by Eric Idle, Screenplays by Graham Chapman, Screenplays by John Cleese, Screenplays by Michael Palin, Screenplays by Terry Gilliam, Screenplays by Terry Jones, Self-Reflexive Films, Wizards in Film, Works Based on the Holy Grail Legend
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Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
2001 re-release promotional poster
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Terry Jones
Produced by Mark Forstater
Michael White
Written by Monty Python
Starring Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Music by Neil Innes
Cinematography Terry Bedford
Edited by John Hackney
Distributed by EMI Films
Release dates
  • 9 April 1975 (1975-04-09) (London)
Running time 91 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $400,000
Box office $5,028,948[1]

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a 1975 British comedy film written and performed by the comedy group of Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin), and directed by Gilliam and Jones. It was conceived during the hiatus between the third and fourth series of their popular BBC television programme Monty Python's Flying Circus.

In contrast to the group's first film, And Now for Something Completely Different, a compilation of sketches from the first two television series, Holy Grail was composed of new material, and is therefore considered the first "proper" film by the group. It generally parodies the legend of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail. The film was a success on its initial release, and Idle used the film as the inspiration for the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical Spamalot.

The film was a box-office success, grossing the highest of any British film exhibited in the U.S. in 1975. It has remained popular since then, receiving critical acclaim. The film received a 97% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus; "a cult classic as gut-bustingly hilarious as it is blithely ridiculous". In the US, the film was selected as the second best comedy of all time in the ABC special Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time; in the UK, readers of Total Film magazine ranked the film the fifth greatest comedy film of all time, and a similar poll of Channel 4 viewers placed the film sixth (2000).[2]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Genre 3
  • Historical Representation 4
  • Production 5
  • Censorship and ratings 6
  • Soundtrack 7
  • Television broadcast 8
  • Home media 9
  • Reaction and legacy 10
  • Influence 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15


King Arthur, along with his squire, Patsy, recruits his Knights of the Round Table: Sir Bedevere the Wise, Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, and Sir Galahad the Pure. On the way, Arthur battles the Black Knight. Arthur chops off the Black Knight's arms and legs but the Black Knight refuses to surrender despite being fatally wounded. The knights reach Camelot, but following a song-and-dance cutaway, Arthur decides not to enter, because "'tis a silly place". They are instructed by God to seek the Holy Grail.

Their first stop is a French-controlled castle where they believe the grail is held. After being insulted by a soldier with a strong French accent, they try sneaking into the castle in a Trojan Rabbit. This plan goes awry when they forget to hide inside it first. The rabbit is catapulted back at them with an assortment of animals and waste. Arthur decides the group should separate to seek the grail. A modern-day historian serves as an on-camera documentary presenter, describing the Arthurian legends. He is abruptly killed by Lancelot on horseback, triggering a police investigation.

Each of the knights encounters various perils on his quest. Arthur and Bedevere attempt to satisfy the strange requests of the dreaded Knights who say Ni. Sir Robin narrowly avoids a fight with the Three-Headed Giant by running away while the heads are arguing, causing embarrassment as his minstrel sings "Brave Sir Robin ran away". Sir Galahad is led by a grail-shaped beacon to Castle Anthrax, populated by women who wish to perform sexual favours for him, but he is rescued by Lancelot from the "perilous situation", somewhat against his will. Sir Lancelot then finds a note tied to an arrow, and after reading it assaults a wedding party at Swamp Castle. Believing them to be holding a lady against her will, he discovers that an effeminate prince sent the note.

The knights regroup with three new knights, Sir Gawain, Sir Ector, and Sir Bors, and a group of monks led by Brother Maynard. They travel to see Tim the Enchanter, who points them to caves where the location of the grail is written on the walls. To enter the caves the group must defeat the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. They do so using the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch courtesy of Brother Maynard after the rabbit kills Gawain, Ector and Bors. They enter the cave and are attacked by the Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh, which devours Brother Maynard. Arthur and his Knights barely escape by virtue of the beast's animator suffering a fatal heart attack.

With their final destination known, the group travel to the Bridge of Death, where each knight is forced to answer three questions by the bridge-keeper before he may cross the Gorge of Eternal Peril. Lancelot easily answers his questions and crosses the bridge, but Robin and Galahad are confounded by difficult questions and thrown into the chasm. Arthur accidentally asks the bridge-keeper a question, and the bridge-keeper is thrown into the chasm himself for not knowing the answer.

Lancelot becomes separated from Arthur and Bedevere, and is later arrested by police for the murder of the historian. Arthur and Bedevere travel to the grail castle, which they find occupied by the same French forces that insulted and drove them off earlier. The knights amass a large army and prepare to storm the castle, but just as they begin to charge, the modern police arrive on the scene. Arthur and Bedevere are arrested, and one of the officers covers the lens with his hand. The film breaks in the projector and runs out of the gate, putting an abrupt end to the film.


Actor Main role Other roles
Graham Chapman King Arthur Voice of God / Hiccuping Guard / Middle Head of Three-Headed Knight
John Cleese Sir Lancelot Second soldier in opening scene / Man in plague scene with body / Singing Knight #4 / Black Knight / Third Villager / French Taunter / Tim the Enchanter
Terry Gilliam Patsy Old Man (Soothsayer) in Scene 24 (Bridgekeeper) / Green Knight / Singing Knight #3 / Sir Bors (First to be killed by rabbit) / Weak-hearted animator (Himself) / Gorilla Hand
Eric Idle Sir Robin The Dead Collector / First Villager / Singing Knight #2 / Confused Guard at Swamp Castle / Concorde (squire of Sir Lancelot) / Roger the Shrubber / Brother Maynard
Terry Jones Sir Bedevere Dennis's Mother / Left Head of Three-Headed Knight / Prince Herbert / Voice of the Cartoon Scribe / French Knight
Michael Palin Sir Galahad First soldier in opening scene / Dennis / Second Villager / Singing Knight #5 / Right Head of Three-Headed Knight / King of Swamp Castle / Monk (Maynard's assistant) / Main Knight who says "Ni" / Narrator / French Knight / Guest at Swamp Castle
Neil Innes Sir Robin's Minstrel Head of chanting monks / Singing Knight #1 / Baton Minstrel / Page crushed by wooden rabbit / Fourth Villager / Singing Knight / Laughing French Knight
Connie Booth The Witch
Carol Cleveland Zoot Dingo (Zoot's twin)
Bee Duffell Old crone
John Young Frank the Historian Dead body (who claims to be not dead)
Rita Davies Historian's Wife
Avril Stewart Dr. Piglet
Sally Kinghorn Dr. Winston


The movie is a parody[3] on the legend of King Arthur and the Holy Grail. It mimics and reflects the characters of the King Arthur legend, as well as plots of the myth. It is also considered a satire,[3] as the film makes fun of the Middle Ages as a broader society and time period as well as overarching themes such as Chivalry.[4]

Historical Representation

It is hard to judge the historical accuracy of this film not only because it is meant as a comedy but because of the difficulties of the subject matter. King Arthur and the Holy Grail is a legend which covers the span of time from when the “real” Arthur may have lived as a person (Gildas wrote of Arturias in the 6th century[4]) to when the myths about him began to rise and become popular (the Romanticized Arthur, "defender of the Saxons" is dated at 12th-13th centuries[4]). The movie opens in the year 932AD, but the Black Death[5] took hold of Europe in the mid 14th century, showing the span of time with which the movie deals. This can make it hard to judge whether certain things were accurate or not, as the film deals with a span of time and thought rather than with just one time period. Another example is the clothing which is simplified for the nobles and knights and reminiscent of the dress over a century prior to the appearance of the Black Death (and therefore more modern than the given date of 932AD),[4] However, the costumes fit with the tone of a modern take on Medieval times as a whole.[6] Having chain mail serve as the knight's armor allows the film to show an accurate depiction of combat. Hand-to-hand fighting was slow and cumbersome. Combatants used heavy weapons[7] in addition to wearing heavy armor.

By using such a span of time, the film was able to include not only many different aspects of the Middle Ages, but also to bring in more modern ideas that are obviously not true of the time period but function as comedic relief - for example, the idea of 18th century thought being applied to the peasants working in the fields.[4] That is not to say that only modern ideas are represented in the medieval context for comedic relief. In the same peasant scene, Arthur tells of his right to rule being given to him by an ethereal being (the Lady of the Lake) which was a commonly held belief for much of history but especially during the Middle Ages - that the right to rule was granted by God.[8]


Monty Python and the Holy Grail was mostly shot on location in Scotland,[9] particularly around Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and the privately owned Castle Stalker. The many castles seen throughout the film were either Doune Castle shot from different angles or hanging miniatures. There are several exceptions to this: the very first exterior shot of a castle at the beginning of the film is Kidwelly Castle in South Wales and the single exterior shot of the Swamp King castle during "Tale of Sir Lancelot" is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex[10] – all subsequent shots of the exterior and interior of those scenes were filmed at Doune Castle.

On the DVD audio commentary, Cleese expresses irritation at a scene set in Castle Anthrax, where he says the focus was on technical aspects rather than comedy. In the scene where the knights were combating the Killer Rabbit, a real white rabbit was used. He was dyed with what was assumed to be a washable red colouring liquid in the shots after the battle. When filming wrapped, the rabbit's owner was dismayed to learn the dye could not be rinsed off. Gilliam described in an audio commentary that the owner of the rabbit was present and shooting was abruptly halted while the cast desperately attempted to clean the rabbit before the owner found out, an unsuccessful attempt. He also stated that he thought that, had they been more experienced in filmmaking, the crew would have just purchased a rabbit instead. Otherwise, the rabbit himself was unharmed. Also, the rabbit-bite effects were done by special puppetry by both Gilliam and SFX technician John Horton.

As chronicled in The Life of Python, The First 20 Years of Monty Python, and The Pythons' Autobiography, it was revealed that Chapman was suffering from Holy Grail, Chapman vowed to quit drinking altogether (which he successfully achieved in December 1977).

Originally the knight characters were going to ride real horses, but after it became clear that the film's small budget precluded real horses, the Pythons decided that their characters would mime horse-riding while their porters trotted behind them banging coconut shells together. The joke was derived from the old-fashioned sound effect used by radio shows to convey the sound of hooves clattering. This was later referred to in the German release of the film, which translated the title as Die Ritter der Kokosnuß[11] ("The Knights of the Coconut").

Censorship and ratings

When Holy Grail was released in theaters around Singapore and on DVD, it was originally rated PG, but was re-rated to PG-13 when it was released on Blu-ray. Some other countries like The United States, Canada (in British Columbia and Manitoba) and Australia received PG ratings. When the film was first released in the United States, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the only Monty Python feature to receive a PG rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (since the PG-13 rating was not yet created until nearly a decade later). The last two Python features, Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983) both received R ratings when they were released in America four years apart.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail received higher motion picture ratings in five other countries; an 18 rating in Brazil, an M rating in New Zealand, a 16 rating in Norway, a 15 rating in Ireland, and a K-16 rating in Finland. When the film was released on video in the United Kingdom, it was originally rated 15 by the British Board of Film Classification, but was later re-rated to 12 when the film was re-released on video in 2006, during the time in which all films in the United Kingdom were releasing films on video that were uncut. The film is entirely banned in Malaysia due to the offensive nature of the film.


In addition to several songs written by Python regular Neil Innes, several pieces of music were licensed from De Wolfe Music Library. These include

  • "Ice Floe 9", composed by Pierre Arvay. Used during the beginning titles.
  • "Countrywide",[12] composed by Anthony Mawer. Used during the beginning titles after the first titlers are sacked.
  • "Homeward Bound", composed by Jack Trombey. Used as King Arthur's heroic theme.
  • "Crossed Swords",[13] composed by Dudley Matthew. Played during King Arthur's battle with the Black Knight.
  • "The Flying Messenger",[14] composed by Oliver Armstrong. Played during Sir Lancelot's misguided storming of Swamp Castle.
  • "The Promised Land",[15] composed by Stanley Black. Used in the scene where Arthur approaches the castle on the island.
  • "Starlet in the Starlight",[16] composed by Kenneth Essex. Briefly used for Prince Herbert's attempt to express himself in song.
  • "Love Theme",[17] composed by Peter Knight. Also used briefly for Prince Herbert.
  • "Revolt",[18] composed by Eric Towren. Used as the army charges on Castle Aaargh.

Television broadcast

The film had its television premiere 25 February 1977 on the CBS Late Movie. Reportedly, the Pythons were displeased to discover a number of edits were done by the network to reduce use of profanity and the showing of blood. The troupe pulled back the rights and thereafter had it broadcast in the United States only on PBS and later other channels such as IFC, where it runs uncut.[19]

Home media

The first DVD was released in 1999 and had only a non-anamorphic print, about two pages of production notes, and trailers for other Sony Pictures releases.

Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition

On 23 October 2001, the Special Edition DVD was released. Disc One includes two commentary tracks (featuring Idle, Palin, and Cleese in the first, Jones and Gilliam in the second), "Subtitles for People Who Don't Like the Film", consisting of lines taken from William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2, and a feature for the hard of hearing, where the menu is read aloud by Jones in a very loud voice.

As an extension of the group's penchant for never abiding to a generic formula, the film (if not already in progress) commences with a short subject named "Dentist on the Job" (Its American title is Get on With It, a phrase spoken multiple times throughout Holy Grail) After the opening credits, the projectionist (Jones) realises it is the wrong film and puts the correct one on, after he displays the "Please Wait" caption.

Additionally, there is a deleted scene where Galahad meets Dingo, during which she breaks out of character, turns to the camera and asks the audience if they should cut that scene. Her response is everyone yelling "GET ON WITH IT!" (including God).

Disc Two includes Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Lego (also known as Lego Knights or It's Only a Model), a "brickfilm" version of the "Camelot Song" as sung by Lego minifigures.[20] It was created by Spite Your Face Productions on commission from the Lego Group and Python Pictures. The project was conceived by the original film's respective Producer and Co-Director, John Goldstone and Terry Gilliam.[21] It has also existed online since that time as a viral video, and is amongst the most heavily downloaded films of its type – for example, it was in the iFilms top ten for more than two years. Disc Two also includes two scenes dubbed in Japanese and translated back through subtitles. "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations", hosted by Palin and Jones, shows places in Scotland used for the setting titled as "England 932 A.D." (as well as the two Pythons purchasing a copy of their own script as a guide). Also included is a who's who page, advertising galleries, sing-alongs, and a small featurette about the proper use of a coconut (presented by Michael Palin).

Limited-edition DVD box-set

The DVD release additionally included a copy of the screenplay, a limited-edition film cell/senitype, and limited-edition art cards;[22] however, a few of the bonus features from the Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition were omitted.

Blu-ray Disc

A 35th anniversary edition on Blu-ray Disc was released in the US on 6 March 2012.[23] Special features include "The Holy Book of Days," a second-screen experience that can be downloaded as an app on an iOS device and played with the Blu-ray to enhance its viewing; lost animation sequences with a new intro from animator Terry Gilliam; outtakes; and extended scenes with Python member and the movie's co-director Terry Jones.[24]

Reaction and legacy

Monty Python and the Holy Grail received critical acclaim and remains a cult classic to this day. The film received a 97% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. based on 67 reviews; the consensus states: "A cult classic as gut-bustingly hilarious as it is blithely ridiculous, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has lost none of its exceedingly silly charm."[25]

In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted Holy Grail the fifth greatest comedy film of all time.[2] The next Python film, Life of Brian, was ranked first.[2] A similar poll of Channel 4 viewers in 2005 placed Holy Grail in sixth (with Life of Brian again topping the list). ranked 'Holy Grail' the third greatest comedy film of all time.[26]

In 2011, an ABC prime-time special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, counted down the best films chosen by fans based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People. Holy Grail was selected as the second best comedy.

The film spawned a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical smash hit knockoff, Spamalot. Written primarily by Idle, the show has more of an overarching plot and leaves out certain portions of the movie due to difficulties in rendering certain effects on stage. However, the same gags are there for the majority of the show.[27]


A number of works, such as video games, novels, and newspapers pay homage to this movie.

  • In the 1997 video game, Shadow Warrior, by 3D Realms a secret area on level 4 takes you to a cave guarded by a vicious white rabbit.[28]
  • In the 1998 video game, Duke Nukem: Time To Kill, by G2 Interactive and 3D Realms which features the player's character traveling to various time periods including medieval Europe. Duke Nukem uses holy hand grenades.[29]
  • In the [30]
  • The 1999 3DO PC game, Heroes of Might and Magic III, includes a series of cheat code that are either direct reference, or are actual quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Using a cheat code, however, soils the player's score by changing their name to "Cheater!" with an exception for the Sir Robin code.[31]
  • The 2007 DreamWorks Animation film Shrek the Third includes a scene in which a character is banging coconuts together to simulate the sound of horses' hooves. Although both Cleese and Idle were featured in the film in voice form, Idle stated that he did not know and did not approve of the use of the gag in the film. He claimed to be considering suing the producers for the unauthorised use of the gag, while the producers claim they were honouring Idle and Cleese by its use.[32]
  • In 2009, Gatorade released an online campaign entitled "Mission G" and 10-minute commercial entitled "The Quest for G" that pays homage to the film. The commercial starred Kevin Garnett in the King Arthur role; Derek Jeter, Jimmie Johnson, Usain Bolt, Misty May, Kerri Walsh, and Alicia Sacramone as the knights; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Tim the Enchanter role, and Michael Jordan as the voice of the Grail.[33]
  • Black Sheep Brewery's Monty Python's Holy Ale comes complete with Python-style cartoons, including the trademark foot of Cupid. The label states it is "Tempered over burning witches."[34]
  • In the MMORPG Wizard101, by KingsIsle Entertainment, a mount released on 1 April 2014 called the Mighty Steed features two coconut shells the player hits together as they move.[35]

See also


  1. ^ Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Box Office Data, DVD Sales, Movie News, Cast Information. The Numbers. Retrieved on 2014-08-03.
  2. ^ a b c "Life of Brian tops comedy poll". BBC News. Retrieved 18 January 2014
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b c d e
  5. ^ https://articles/Black_Death
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ https://articles/Divine_right_of_kings
  9. ^ "Monty Python and the Holy Grail filming locations". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  10. ^ "Bodiam Castle, East Sussex". London: Guardian News and Media Limited. 5 June 2007. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  11. ^ "Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) – Premierendaten". 1 May 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  12. ^ "Countrywide". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "Crossed Swords". Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  14. ^ "Flying Messenger". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  15. ^ "The Promised Land". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  16. ^ "Starlet In The Starlight". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  17. ^ "Love Theme". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  18. ^ "Revolt". Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  19. ^ Monty Python... Films
  20. ^ "Monty Python LEGO". 13 September 2001. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  21. ^ NEWS 2004_12_14 - Monty Python is Animators' Delight. Daily Llama. Retrieved on 2014-08-03.
  22. ^ "Buy Monty Python and the Holy Grail Box Set online at and read reviews. Free delivery to UK and Europe!". 2011-01-23. Retrieved 2012-05-03. 
  23. ^ "Blu-ray Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail | High-Def Digest". Retrieved 2012-05-03. 
  24. ^ Whitman, Howard. "Blu-ray Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail". Technologytell. Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  25. ^ "Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 18 January 2014
  26. ^ "Life of Brian named best comedy". BBC News. Retrieved 18 January 2014
  27. ^ McGuigan, Cathleen (January 24, 2005). "A Very Swordid Affair". Newsweek 145 (4): 64–65. 
  28. ^ 
  29. ^ 
  30. ^ Carter, Varmen; Peter David; Michael Jan Friedman; Robert Greenberger (1998). Doomsday World. Star Trek: The Next Generation 12. POCKET BOOKS.  
  31. ^ "Age of Heroes: Heroes III Cheat Codes". Valera Koltsov. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  32. ^ "Eric Idle considers suing Shrek makers over gag". Toronto Star. 21 May 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2007. 
  33. ^ "Gatorade". Mission G. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  34. ^ "Tasting Notes: Monty Python's Holy Grail". Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  35. ^ "Mighty Steed". 

Further reading

  • Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Methuen, 1977, ISBN 0 458 92970 0. Contains screenplay, photographs, and other material.
  • The Pythons Autobiography by the Pythons, St. Martin's Press, 2003
  • The First 200 Years of Monty Python by Kim "Howard" Johnson, St. Martin's Press, 1989

External links

  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the Internet Movie Database
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail at Rotten Tomatoes
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail at Metacritic
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Lego at the Internet Movie Database
  • and the TV seriesHoly Grail2012 interview with Carol Cleveland, covering
  • Estimating the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow
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