Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Monty Python and the Holy Grail
UK quad 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 De Wolfe
Neil Innes
Cinematography Terry Bedford
Edited by John Hackney
Michael White Productions
Python (Monty) Pictures
National Film Trustee Company
Distributed by EMI Films (UK)
Cinema 5 Distributing (US)
Release dates
  • April 9, 1975 (1975-04-09) (London)
Running time
91 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $400,000
Box office $5 million[1]

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a 1975 British surreal 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 is composed of original material. It parodies the legend of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail. Idle used the film as the basis for the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical Spamalot.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail grossed the most of any British film exhibited in the U.S. in 1975. 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]


In 932, King Arthur, along with his squire, Patsy, recruits his Knights of the Round Table: Sir Bedevere the Wise, Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Galahad the Pure, Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, and the aptly named Sir Not-appearing-in-this-film. On the way, Arthur battles the Black Knight who heedlessly ignores his wounds and continues to fight. 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. After being insulted by a soldier with a strong French accent, they try sneaking into the castle in a Trojan Bunny. 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 split up to seek the grail. A modern-day historian serves as an on-camera documentary presenter, describing the Arthurian legends. He is abruptly killed by an unknown knight 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 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 accused and arrested by police for the murder of the historian. Arthur and Bedevere travel to the Castle Aaargh, 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


Doune Castle, used in several scenes.
Castle Stalker, the location of the final scene.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail was mostly shot on location in Scotland,[3] 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[4] – all subsequent shots of the exterior and interior of those scenes were filmed at Doune Castle.

At the start of the Tale of Sir Robin, there is a slow camera zoom in on rocky scenery (that in the voice over is described as 'the dark forest of Ewing'). This is actually a still photograph of The Gorge at Mount Buffalo National Park in Victoria, Australia. The production manager Julian Doyle stated in 2000 during an interview with Hotdog magazine[5] that it was a still image filmed with candles underneath the frame (to give a heat haze). This was a low-cost method of achieving a convincing location effect.

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. It 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 acrophobia, trembling, and bouts of forgetfulness during filming. These were the results of Chapman's long-standing alcohol addiction, and he decided from that moment on to remain "on an even keel" while the production continued. Nearly three years after 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[6] ("The Knights of the Coconut").


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",[7] 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",[8] composed by Dudley Matthew. Played during King Arthur's battle with the Black Knight.
  • "The Flying Messenger",[9] composed by Oliver Armstrong. Played during Sir Lancelot's misguided storming of Swamp Castle.
  • "The Promised Land",[10] composed by Stanley Black. Used in the scene where Arthur approaches the castle on the island.
  • "Starlet in the Starlight",[11] composed by Kenneth Essex. Briefly used for Prince Herbert's attempt to express himself in song.
  • "Love Theme",[12] composed by Peter Knight. Also used briefly for Prince Herbert.
  • "Revolt",[13] 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.[citation needed] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] 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;[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

Reaction and legacy

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."[20]

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.[21]

In 2005 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.[22]

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.

In 2013 the Pythons lost a legal case to Mark Forstater, the film producer, over royalties for the derivative work Spamalot. They owed a combined £800,000 in legal fees and back royalties to Forstater.[23][24]


Monty Python and the Holy Grail was re-released on 14 October 2015 in the United Kingdom.[25]

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. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Life of Brian tops comedy poll". BBC News. Retrieved 18 January 2014
  3. "Monty Python and the Holy Grail filming locations". Retrieved 16 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Bodiam Castle, East Sussex". London: Guardian News and Media Limited. 5 June 2007. Retrieved 18 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Never have so few suffered for the enjoyment of so many: the making of Monty Python And The Holy Grail". Hotdog. October 2000. via (convenience link).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) – Premierendaten". 1 May 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Countrywide". Retrieved 16 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Crossed Swords". Retrieved 1 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Flying Messenger". Retrieved 16 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "The Promised Land". Retrieved 16 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Starlet In The Starlight". Retrieved 16 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Love Theme". Retrieved 16 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Revolt". Retrieved 1 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Monty Python... Films[dead link]
  15. "Monty Python LEGO". 13 September 2001. Retrieved 16 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. NEWS 2004_12_14 - Monty Python is Animators' Delight. Daily Llama. Retrieved on 2014-08-03.
  17. "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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Blu-ray Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail | High-Def Digest". Retrieved 2012-05-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Whitman, Howard. "Blu-ray Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail". Technologytell. Retrieved 2012-03-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 18 January 2014
  21. "Life of Brian named best comedy". BBC News. Retrieved 18 January 2014
  22. McGuigan, Cathleen (January 24, 2005). "A Very Swordid Affair". Newsweek. 145 (4): 64–65.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "John Cleese: Monty Python reunion is happening because of my £800,000 legal bill". Daily Mirror. May 23, 2014. Retrieved 2014-12-28. Last July, the Pythons lost a royalties case to Mark Forstater, who produced 1975 film Monty Python And The Holy Grail. ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Monty Python sued over Spamalot royalties". BBC News Online. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-30. Mr Forstater claimed he was entitled to one-seventh of this figure, the same share enjoyed by each of the other Pythons - but was told he was only entitled to one-fourteenth, and has been paid accordingly since 2005. ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "Monty Python and the Holy Grail returning to theaters for 40th anniversary". Entertainment Weekly.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

• Larsen, Darl. A Book About the Film Monty Python and the Holy Grail: All the References From African Swallows to Zoot. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. ISBN 9781442245532

  • 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