From Python to Your Highness: Ye Olde History of Medieval Comedies


In 1975, Monty Python set a standard for Medieval comedies which has, in my opinion, yet to be equalled or surpassed. In fact, Holy Grail was the second Medieval comedy ever made, the first being Carry On Henry, but by this time the famous franchise was already doomed to continue its descent into predictably raunchy innuendos and increasingly unsuitable settings, things that had made the series so great in the first place. Since then, few have decided to take upon the challenge of an olde time romp, with its daunting big budget, and the restriction of having to film in Britain somewhere (ugh, how dull right?). Anyway, here’s what I’d call a pretty comprehensive history of the medieval comedy.

Time Bandits

1981

Terry Gilliam’s surreal family adventure may not be a straight comedy, but it probably has the darkest humour there’s ever been for a kids film. In comparison with most serious fantasies, this pre-CGI whizz through history features a cast of mostly dwarves plus 2 other Pythons: John Cleese and Michael Palin. A wonderful ‘in-between’ blend of anti-adult morals and imaginative visual storytelling. In other words, it’s pretty good.

The Princess Bride

1987

If you’ve ever seen any of those ‘Funniest Movies EVER’ countdown lists, you’ve probably come across The Princess Bride once or twice. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against Rob ‘take-a-shit-and-sell-it-as-a-movie’ Reiner, and there really are some genuinely funny moments in TPB (Billy Crystal, we all love Billy Crystal), but the fact that it’s constantly switching between witty one liners and conversations such as:

Westley: Hear this now: I will always come for you.
Buttercup: But how can you be sure?
Westley: This is true love.

…anyone over 12, just watch When Harry Met Sally instead.

Army of Darkness

1993

The 3rd instalment in the infamous Evil Dead franchise is also the most ambitious, yet also toned down. It features much less horror than its two wickedly graphic predecessors, but amps up the comedic and Medieval-ic elements. The stop motion animation adds to the humour, but it’s Bruce Campbell’s slapstick performance that steals the show. Definitely the best supernatural Medieval comedy of all time!

Robin Hood: Men in Tights

1993

Mel Brooks had previously directed some of the most memorable spoofs in film history, but I’ve never personally been a fan of his. However, I’m willing to make an exception for any film that takes a dig at Kevin Costner (“Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent!”). Perhaps amongst the funniest moments of the film are the many deliberate anachronisms throughout the film (e.g. EXIT signs in the castle) and it’s this attention to comic detail that makes Robin Hood: Men in Tights just about watchable. Also, Patrick Stewart is fab, natch.

Just Visiting

2001

So, yeah.

Black Knight

2001

Way back when black leads were popular (don’t blame me, its Will Smith’s fault), Martin Lawrence was one of the funniest. But in 2001 he broke his cool streak, which incidentally he hasn’t recovered from since, by starring in this shitty, poorly thought out time travel caper (I mean, what audience were they aiming for?). Tedious and predictable, it doesn’t seem to get that cramming cliché after cliché into the plot actually makes it less enjoyable than it coul……actually, it’s just a terrible idea. A really terrible idea.

The Shrek Franchise

2001-10

The highest grossing movies on this list by far, everyone knows that the first 2 Shrek films are really great. I mean Pixar great, and the last 2 have been okay, but it’s more the original concept of reinventing the fairy tale into a fun and crude, but enjoyable, sidekick comedy for kids and adults alike. Endlessly quotable, easily watchable, yeah Shrek has earned its place as one of the all time great animation movies.

How To Train Your Dragon

2010

Truly an epic film in visual ambition that sets a new benchmark for future animated films. The usual themes are here about self identity and not believing everything you read, but it’s so damn charming (John Powell is perhaps the greatest British composer in Hollywood right now) it’s hard not to fall under its spell, despite Jay Baruchel.

Your Highness

2011

In 2002, David Gordon Green wrote and directed his masterpiece: All The Real Girls with Zooey Deschanel and co starring Danny McBride. In 2011, he finally destroyed his reputation as a consistently powerful writer capable of emotional prowess. He should just go back to cripplingly honest dramas, because Your Highness is cripplingly flawed. I’m not sure when modern comedies will finally realise that ‘LOL! THIS CHARACTER IS HIGH!’ isn’t funny, and never has been. Your Highness isn’t totally devoid of laughs, the last 15 minutes being the most enjoyable (in a good way), but it seems to be confused as a stoner/medieval comedy. If you take the swearing and drugs out of this movie, you pretty much have a decent kids adventure with likeable, funny characters. It’s a shame because I’ve seen how capable the Your Highness crew are, and to see their talents go to waste on such a poorly thought out concept chocka block full of bad English accents is a crying shame.

Well, that’s an optimistic note to end on.

Hollywood, as a wise young singer/rap artist once said: ‘get your game on’.

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