Life of Brian & the Defamation Act
Today at 4:30pm the Rio Cinema in Hackney, East London will show the classic Monty Python satire, The Life of Brian. Released in 1979, The Life of Brian is enjoying its thirtieth Easter. The well from which a thousand popular culture references can be drawn, the film was banned in Ireland for eight years (from its release in 1979 until 1987). An old family anecdote has my uncle sneaking a copy of it into the house without my grandmother’s knowledge – the same grandmother asked to borrow the DVD last year to see, at long last, what all the fuss was about. Twenty-three years after the lifting of the ban on Brian it might now fall foul of the Defamation Act 2009 on grounds of criminal blasphemy (see previous posts here and here). Section 36 of the Act makes it an offence to intentionally publish or utter “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. It’s worth wondering if the Life of Brian still has the ability to cause outrage in modern Ireland, but if it did, then a cinema screening it might be caught by the section. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions may enjoy his day off: my quick search of internet listings found no Irish cinema showing the film today. Anyone that may be screening the movie can take comfort that it is a defence to “prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates”. After thirty years, the Pythons’ reasonableness is surely beyond doubt. All of us here at HRinI hope you enjoy your Bank Holiday weekend – whatever you’re celebrating.