Holy Flying Circus, BBC4, Wednesday
Mary Queen of Frocks, Channel 4, Tuesday

A dramatisation of the furore over 'Life of Brian' stayed true to the anarchic spirit of the Pythons

What's more important than making fun of things?

That was Michael Palin's position throughout Holy Flying Circus, Tony Roche's patchy but hilarious dramatisation of the furore that greeted Monty Python's Life of Brian in 1979. Palin's question hung in the air, rhetorically demanding the answer "Nothing". But it was more likely, in 1979, to elicit the answer "Religion". The BBC4 drama showed that, when you're up against Christianity, you've got a fight on your hands.

Best remembered for the crucifix shuffle "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", Life of Brian was mired in controversy from its launch. Protests broke out in New York. In Britain, a group of Christians called the Festival of Light orchestrated a campaign to stifle it. Despite getting an AA certificate from the British Board of Film Classification, Brian was banned by 39 local councils. Disaster threatened the lovable scamps who had so energised the British comedy scene.

Roche, co-author of The Thick of It and Fresh Meat, could have played this material straight, as your basic Freedom of Speech versus Forces of Repression duel. Instead, he pimped it with madcap surrealism, cutaway sketches, nightmare sequences, fast-forwards to the present day and allusions to Python sketches.

John Cleese is asked, "So will you make a film that's rude to Muslims next?" by a newspaper seller, whom he whacks with a tree branch, à la Basil Fawlty. A scrolling script takes the mick out of the rolling-script convention. Spinning newspaper headlines reveal satirical swipes at spinning newspapers. Terry Gilliam, hearing the words "... the script meeting from Hell" instantly imagines its graphic equivalent. In a cloud-shrouded Heaven, God the Father (Stephen Fry) discovers his beer has been turned to water by God the Son and says: "Christ, I wish you'd grow up."

At first, this stuff was so effortfully hectic that it promised to be unbearable. But it improved, helped by impressive acting and a funny script ("How can I possibly not take it personally?" says Michael Palin to his wife. "They're burning an effigy of me in my garden"). Some of the Pythons were under-characterised – Graham Chapman pipe-smoking and inscrutable, Eric Idle a money-grabber, Terry Jones obsessed with camera angles – but Darren Boyd made a scarily unpredictable John Cleese, with his military bearing and Gromit eyeballs, and Charles Edwards was the dead spit of Michael Palin – a rational, emolliently-spoken nice guy with a deranged imagination.

The climax was the television confrontation between the Pythons and the Bishop of Southwark (magnificently played by Roy Marsden) and Malcolm Muggeridge (a marvellously sleazy Michael Cochrane,) in which the serious Palin and Cleese lost out to the crowd-pleasing Christians.

Roche hinted that there were important points to be made about the significance of this battle between religion and subversion; how it led to The Satanic Verses and the rage of Islam over Danish cartoons of Mohammed; but he and his director Owen Harris preferred to keep the action zinging along, drawing attention to its cleverness. Even that was subverted in turn: "All this sub-Python self-referential bullshit can suck my big hairy arse," grated a voice from 2011. Quite. Dead funny, though.

Tuesday night was make-or-break night for Mary Portas, the self-styled Queen of Shops who's now the self-styled "Queen of Frocks" after designing a range of women's clothes, "neither too fuddy-duddy or too young". It was easy to remember this slogan because it was repeated every few minutes by Ms Portas, her staff or her customers. Everyone was on-side at Planet Portas – you knew that, because they kept asking "What planet are you on?" to anyone yet to get with the programme.

Among the "handpicked staff" were some pleasingly barmy assistants. Lesley was a gaunt and put-upon spinster inside a ton of turquoise eyeshadow. The veteran sales manager, Spencer, resembled a Brilliantined 1930s matinee idol with a Ronald Colman moustache. Ten minutes into the programme, Mary announced they'd hit their first-day target and all was well – leaving us three-quarters of an hour to watch as she demanded that House of Fraser now let her stamp her individual style on their 61 stores.

Stamp is the word. The more feisty she wanted to seem ("I've got to be sure it's all Mary's shop") the more she sounded like a foot-stamping, tyrannical six-year-old.

Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower