Jabberwocky (1977)

Jabberwocky (1977)

“It is the middle of the dark ages — ages darker than anyone had expected…”

During the Middle Ages, a cooper’s son (Michael Palin) sets forth into the city, where a monstrous Jabberwocky terrorizes the citizens, and the king (Max Wall) has offered the hand of his daughter (Deborah Fallender) in marriage to anyone who slays the beast.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fantasy
  • Historical Drama

Terry Gilliam’s first post-Python directorial feature is a creatively conceived but ultimately enigmatic and muddled disappointment. Ostensibly based upon Lewis Carroll’s infamous nonsense poem “Jabberwocky”, the titular creature of fantasy — with “jaws that bite” and “claws that catch” — only makes a few cameo appearances throughout the film: s/he’s in partial view during the gruesome opening sequence and a later brief attack scene, and then shows up in disappointing full form during the climactic denouement:

The rest of the movie is an almost unbearably muck-filled journey into what Gilliam clearly posits as the *real* Middle Ages, when Britain’s citizens lived a miserable life of dung and filth:

Only those “lucky” enough to see the world through rose-colored glasses, like Michael Palin’s clueless young cooper:

who is desperately in love with the spoiled, sullen, obese daughter (Annette Badland) of a fishmonger (Warren Mitchell):

are able to make their way through the perils of daily life with enough nervy stupidity to survive, simply through dumb luck. Meanwhile, there’s precious little humor to be had throughout the movie, leaving one to wonder what the point of it all really is. Perhaps most frustrating is that Palin’s protagonist is an utterly hapless and accidental “hero”, never really demonstrating growth in either intelligence or bravery; his final fate is thus both undeserved and under-appreciated.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Impressively atmospheric cinematography and sets

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one unless you’re a diehard Terry Gilliam fan.


2 thoughts on “Jabberwocky (1977)

  1. Yes, true – ffs really can just skip this one.

    This is my second viewing after who knows how many years. I didn’t like it at all the first time either. Basically, the film seems to exist because director Gilliam apparently felt like making a movie so he made one. Technically speaking, it all works (and it looks great!) – I don’t even find it all that ‘enigmatic’ or ‘muddled’. But it certainly is an almost-complete ‘disappointment’.

    Occasionally there is some of the lofty, playful language which is usually at the forefront of the best in Monty Python films. But ultimately, ‘Jabberwocky’ comes off resembling little more than a series of deleted scenes from ‘MP and the Holy Grail’.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A decent film if no classic, but it’s great at showing the real Middle Ages and the prevailing attitudes of the era. I like the way the King lives in a – by our standards – very run down state. The Jabberwocky is well realised and Palin is priceless as always. Indeed, the whole cast are great.

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