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Monty Python and The Holy Grail is a British comedy film produced in 1975 surrounding the Arthurian legend and the Knights of the Round Table on their quest for the Holy Grail. The movie was written and performed by the Monty Python comedy group (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) and directed by Gilliam and Jones. Set in 10th century England, the plot follows King Arthur as he travels the country in search of knights to join his Round Table in Camelot until God sends them on a quest to find the Grail that ends up failing disastrously in hilarious fashion.
Before The Holy Grail, the Monty Python troupe had only released one film, And Now for Something Completely Different, back in 1971. Unlike the former, the group’s first foray into film wasn’t a standalone plot, but instead 90 minutes of sketches taken from the first two seasons of the television show and recreated without an audience<1>. The intention was to produce a compilation of their works for the American audience that hadn’t seen the original series.
The concept for Monty Python and the Holy Grail began during the hiatus between the third and fourth seasons of the BBC TV series Monty Python"s Flying Circus. Between 1973 and 1974, the Pythons developed the first version of the screenplay and initially planned for half the movie to be set in the Middle Ages while the other half was set in present day. Ultimately they decided to solely focus on the Middle Ages concerning the legend of King Arthur and the quest for the Holy Grail.
Initially, the budget for this film was around £200,000 or $260,742 (which is around $1,256,407 in 2020) and was raised by a group of investors, including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Genesis, who were persuaded by head of Charisma Records, Tony Stratton-Smith, after studios refused to finance it.
Eventually by the fifth edition of the screenplay, the troupe had completed the storyline and the BBC visited the set in May 1974 when production began (as documented by Michael Palin in his book Diaries 1969–1979: The Python Years<2>). The two Pythons who directed the film (Gilliam and Jones) had never done so before the Holy Grail and the cast described their directing as “employing the level of mutual disrespect always found in Monty Python"s work.”
The vast majority of the film was shot in Scotland<3> near the Doune Castle, Glen Coe and Castle Stalker. Many of the castles seen in the movie are actually various shots of Doune Castle from different angles in addition to hanging miniatures. Certain scenes also include Kidwelly Castle in South Wales, Bodiam Castle in East Sussex and Mount Buffalo National Park in Victoria, Australia.
The famous scene depicting the knights and Merlin fighting the Rabbit of Caerbannog did indeed use a real rabbit during filming. According to commentary<4> released in the 2001 version of the film, the rabbit was covered in red liquid to simulate the blood (which was hard to remove), but the owner didn’t want their pet to get dirty, so was kept unaware. The scenes where the rabbit attacked the knights was done with puppetry.
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Ultimately, the film was a massive success after its release on May 25th, 1975, and, grossed more than any British film exhibited in the United States, where it was also chosen as the “second best comedy of all-time” in the ABC special Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time. Throughout its extensive lifetime, Monty Python and the Holy Grail would continue garnering fans across all generations and is consistently listed on compilations of the greatest comedies and films of all-time.