Second coming for Brian

The Monty Python film arrives in Aberystwyth, 30 years late. Richard Osley reports
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The Independent Culture

He might not be the Messiah, but in the eyes of a small Welsh seaside town, Monty Python's luckless but much-loved character Brian Cohen is at last no longer considered such a naughty boy, either.

Thirty years after his comic crucifixion in The Life of Brian had religious leaders in Aberystwyth so hot under the dog collar that screenings of the film were banned in their town, Brian has finally beaten his censors. And so, one of the longest-delayed premieres in cinema history took place at the 120-seat Aberystwyth Arts Centre last night.

The Python actors Terry Jones and Michael Palin, who three decades ago would have been drummed out of the town for blasphemy, made the most of the more hospitable reception by joining the audience for a charity screening.

The tale of a Jewish man mistaken for Jesus who is eventually crucified, accompanied by a chorus of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", was roundly condemned by clergy and many other Christians on its release in 1979.

Some local authorities dusted off rarely used bylaws to either ban its screening or to slap on an X-rating. Most of the bans have been lifted or expired over time, but in Aberystwyth the order from a committee of religious leaders was never relaxed and was challenged only last year after one of the film's cast became the town's mayor.

Sue Jones-Davies, who played Brian's girlfriend, Judith Iscariot, in the film, said: "People were stopping me in the street, saying: 'Go on, Sue, get the ban lifted.'" Ms Jones-Davies added that there was no paperwork or council motions to go through to get the ban lifted and that it had just "dissolved" after she asked for the film to be shown.

She joked yesterday that she could still be arrested for organising the premiere but wasn't expecting the police to burst in. "We're still here discussing the film all these years later – and that's to its credit," she said. "It is still so relevant. I think people are ready for it. I've had some lovely letters from vicars who have said: 'Show it, and I want to be there when you do.'"

Kate Egan, a film studies lecturer from Aberystwyth University, said the film had clashed with the town's "strong church community and religious base" on its release, but added that the ban had not only "put our little town on the map" but helped publicity for the film itself, as well. "It's one of the most popular comedy films of all time. Anybody could get the DVD, but, up until now, you have not been allowed to screen it here."