The Life of Brian is a satirical film set during biblical times in Judea. The film begins with the birth of a boy named Brian Cohen in a manger and a visit of three wise men. When he grows up, Brian joins the People's Front of Judea who are trying to destroy the governing Roman Empire. Brian gives a sermon and people believe that he is the Messiah who can work miracles. He is eventually arrested and sentenced to crucifixion. The film ends with a crowd scene where people join together singing 'Always look on the bright side of life...'.
The decision by the Chief Censor to make the film R16 was hugely controversial. Christian groups called for the film to be banned before it had even arrived in New Zealand. The Chief Censor of Films Bernard Tunnicliffe received more letters about The Life of Brian than any other film submitted for classification at that time. A petition containing 12,352 signatures seeking a ban was presented to the Minister of Internal Affairs.
In response to criticism, the Chief Censor stated that:
...it is not blasphemous or sacrilegious ...it may be argued that it is in bad taste, but this is a factor which, in terms of the law, I am not required to, and cannot, take into account.