According to legend, the idea for Life of Brian (d. Terry Jones, 1979) stemmed from a throw-away remark by Eric Idle during an interview shortly after the release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (d. Jones/Terry Gilliam, 1974). Asked what was next for the Pythons, Idle apparently replied "Jesus Christ - Lust for Glory". The absurdity of a Monty Python biblical epic appealed to the rest of the team, and they set to work on what would be their most successful - and controversial - film.
While Holy Grail was hindered by budgetary limitations and an episodic, hit-and-miss script, Life of Brian benefits from a more robust narrative that still allows for moments of typical Python lunacy - like the bizarre and unexplained space battle - without detracting from the film's flow. Furthermore, the financial backing of ex-Beatle George Harrison permitted a North African location shoot which, coupled with Peter Biziou's photography and Jones's direction, gives Life of Brian a genuinely epic look.
Typically, despite the ancient Jerusalem setting, the Pythons draw upon the British class system for much of the film's humour. Pontius Pilate and his privileged Roman friends are portrayed as effete aristocrats, and the Jewish official presiding over the stoning is an archetypal petty bureaucrat. The resistance organisation the People's Front of Judea - bitter rival of the Judean People's Front - is a thinly-veiled parody of ineffectual far-left politics, riven by internal feuds.
The Pythons never intended the film to be a satire of the gospels, but a critique of the fractious nature of organised religion. Nevertheless, it caused outrage amongst religious groups, and created a wave of lobbying and boycotts which successfully persuaded a few local councils to ban the film. Of the 101 local authorities that insisted on viewing Life of Brian before granting a license, 68 upheld the British Board of Film Censors' AA certificate, 28 enforced a local X rating and 11 banned it from exhibition in their jurisdiction.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) the moral outrage, Life of Brian was a box-office success, and Handmade Films - the production company set up by George Harrison to finance the film - became one of the British cinema's major players during the 1980s and '90s, responsible for a string of acclaimed films including The Long Good Friday (d. John Mackenzie, 1979), Time Bandits (d. Gilliam, 1981) and Withnail & I (d. Bruce Robinson, 1986).