Once banned in several American states, Ireland and Norway – and subsequently marketed in Sweden with the tagline, “The film so funny it was banned in Norway” – Life Of Brian is Monty Python at their wittiest, ballsiest best. Taking aim at the fake piety of many religious folk, its genius is perhaps best exemplified by this lapidation set-piece, which riffs on the Gospel of John, Chapter 8.
Two centurions look on as an angry mob forms, all clutching stones. The target of their ire is a skinny old man (John Young) in a dirty loincloth, held in chains by two guards. A Jewish high priest (John Cleese) reads from a scroll.
HIGH PRIEST: Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath…
MATTHIAS: Do I say ‘yes’?
HIGH PRIEST: You have been found guilty by the elders of the town of uttering the name of our Lord, and so, as a blasphemer…
HIGH PRIEST:… you are to be stoned to death.
The mob lean forward excitedly, itching for some action.
MATTHIAS: Look. I-I’d had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was, “That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.”
HIGH PRIEST: Blasphemy! He said it again!
MOB: Yes! Yes, he did! He did!
HIGH PRIEST: Did you hear him?!
MOB: Yes! Yes, we did! We did!
HIGH-PITCHED VOICE IN CROWD: Really!
There’s sudden silence. The high priest scans the crowd, suspicious.
HIGH PRIEST: Are there any women here today?
MOB: (all looking down at the ground, mumbling) No. No. No. No…
HIGH PRIEST: Very well. By virtue of the authority vested in me…
Someone in the mob jumps the gun and lobs a stone at the prisoner.
MATTHIAS: Oww! Lay off! We haven’t started yet!
HIGH PRIEST: Come on! Who threw that? Who threw that stone? Come on.
MOB: (all pointing) She did! She did! He did! He! He. He. Him. Him. Him. Him. He did.
Like everyone else in the mob, the culprit is a woman wearing an unconvincing false beard.
STONE-THROWER: Sorry. I thought we’d started.
HIGH PRIEST: Go to the back.
STONE-THROWER: Oh dear.
HIGH PRIEST: Always one, isn’t there? Now, where were we?
MATTHIAS: Look. I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy, just saying ‘Jehovah’.
MOB: (squealing) Oooh! He said it again! Ooooh!
HIGH PRIEST: You’re only making it worse for yourself!
MATTHIAS: Making it worse?! How could it be worse?! (Starting to dance) Jehovah! Jehovah!Jehovah!
HIGH PRIEST: I’m warning you. If you say ‘Jehovah’ once more…
Excited by another mention of the J-word, someone else throws a stone. It hits the high priest.
HIGH PRIEST: Right. Who threw that?
MOB: (Pointing) She did! It was her! He! He. Him. Him. Him. Him. Him. Him.
HIGH PRIEST: Was it you?
STONE-THROWER 2: Yes.
HIGH PRIEST: Right!
STONE-THROWER 2: Well, you did say ‘Jehovah’…
Squealing, the mob go wild, hurling their stones around indiscriminately, hitting each other and the people in front.
HIGH PRIEST: STOP! Stop, will you?! Stop that! Stop it! Now, look! No-one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle! Do you understand? Even—and I want to make this absolutely clear—even if they do say ‘Jehovah’.
Another barrage of stones knocks him to the ground. Three of the bearded women run up carrying an enormous boulder and squash him. The two centurions look at each other and shake their heads.