Inspired by the seven-verse nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, Terry Gilliam’s directorial debut feature is an uneven mix of medieval tomfoolery and crude Monty Python humour.
Fellow Python Michael Palin plays the humble, innocent peasant hero, Dennis, an apprentice cooper who – to prove his worth and win the hand of the fair daughter (Deborah Fallender) of King Bruno the Questionable (Max Wall) along with half of Bruno’s kingdom – sets out to kill the fearsome “Manxome foe”.
In truth, Dennis would rather marry Griselda Fishfinger (Annette Badland), a fat, slovenly wench only interested in food and scratching the wrong places at the wrong time.
All the dreadful elements of the medieval age, including the contrasts between the ragged, starving peasants and the well-fed nobility and clergy, and the filthy living conditions under which everyone lived, are depicted brilliantly here.
Groups such as the masochistic religious fanatics and persons such as Wat Dabney (Jerrold Wells) – who, unable to obtain employment, slices off both his feet in order to beg – are treated with grotesque humour, as is a bloody jousting tournament.
The production design is stunning, and the look of the Jabberwock is based on the illustrations that Sir John Tenniel created for Carroll’s original book.
For all that, Gilliam’s grim fantasy only periodically raises itself above the tiresome.
King Bruno the Questionable
John Le Mesurier
Harry H Corbett
Man with Rock