Holy Flying Circus to focus on comedians’ struggle with church, councils and critics in runup to release of controversial film.

“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy” is one of the most oft-quoted lines in British comedy history. But the religious controversy that engulfed the Monty Python film in which the quote featured, Life of Brian, on its 1979 release was no laughing matter – and is now to be the subject of a BBC drama.

Holy Flying Circus, written by Tony Roche, a co-writer of the political satire The Thick of It, will air this autumn on BBC4 and aims to use the Life of Brian controversy to explore the subject of free speech.

Monty Python’s irreverent take on the story of Jesus Christ revolved around Brian Cohen, a reluctant fictional Messiah in first century Judea who is eventually crucified. Church leaders in the US and the UK protested, claiming it mocked Christ, and the film was banned in several countries including Ireland and Norway as well as by several UK local authorities.

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