Why Monty Python’s Life of Brian, once rated X, is now a 12A

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John Cleese, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman in Monty Python’s Life of Brian

In 1979, Monty Python’s Life of Brian was considered so controversial it was given an X certificate and banned from some British cinemas.

Last year, however, its rating was downgraded to a 12A by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

In its annual report, published this week, the BBFC said it now considered the film “permissible at a more junior category” under its current guidelines.

The film returned to cinemas in 2019 to mark its 40th anniversary.

It was rereleased in April last year with a 12A rating for “infrequent strong language, moderate sex references, nudity [and] comic violence”.

Life of Brian, the third film to feature the entire Monty Python collective, tells of a young man in Roman times who is falsely mistaken for Jesus.

The film, now considered a classic, includes a character called Biggus Dickus, several uses of a swear word and a scene in which actor Graham Chapman appears naked.

When it was first released, the BBFC – then named the British Board of Film Censors – rated the film AA, which meant those under 14 were not allowed to see it.

Contemporary concerns that the film was blasphemous in nature led to more than 100 local authorities opting to view the film for themselves.

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The late Terry Jones directed, starred in and co-wrote the 1979 film

This led to 28 of them raising the classification to an X certificate, meaning no one under 18 could see it, and 11 banning the film altogether.

When the film went to video and DVD, the BBFC gave it a 15 rating for strong language and nudity – meaning only those 15 and over were allowed to see it.

On reviewing the film in 2019, though, the ratings body felt its “six uses of strong language in a comic context” merited no higher than a 12A certificate.

The rating means the film is not generally suitable for children under 12 and they cannot see it in a cinema without the supervision of an adult.

It is not uncommon for the BBFC to revisit films that are being reissued theatrically and reappraise their original classification.

Earlier this year Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, released in 1980 with a U certificate, was reclassified as a PG for its “moderate violence [and] mild threat”.

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Warner Bros

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Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar for playing Joker’s title character

Comic book origin story Joker generated the most complaints from cinemagoers last year, with 20 people complaining that its 15 certificate was too lenient.

The BBFC said the Oscar-winning film, released in the UK in January 2019, featured “scenes of strong violence… with accompanying bloody injury detail”.

Yet it said it had decided the scenes in question did not “dwell on the infliction of pain or injury in a manner that requires an 18 [certificate]”.

Other films that prompted complaints in 2019 included Alita: Battle Angel, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and Transformers spin-off Bumblebee.

Animated film The Queen’s Corgi, meanwhile, received five complaints about sexual references and animal cruelty.

Released last July, the film features a cartoon version of President Trump and a scene where its canine hero climbs into a washing machine.

In its report, the BBFC said no animals had been harmed in the making of the film.

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