Time Bandits

UK 1981, 116 mins
Director: Terry Gilliam

The screening on Wednesday 25 October will be introduced by director Terry Gilliam.

Perhaps the most ferociously imaginative fantasy film Britain has ever produced, Time Bandits – a violent, absurdist comedy for children – was animator-turned-director Terry Gilliam’s second solo film, following his 1977 debut, Jabberwocky. The script, by Gilliam and fellow Python Michael Palin, owed less to earlier British time travel movies, like The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972) or Timeslip (1955), than to British fantasy literature, from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to Tolkien’s The Hobbit and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories via the comic science-fiction of Douglas Adams.

With a dreamlike atmosphere reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy (the latter one of Gilliam’s many unfulfilled projects), Time Bandits gleefully de-romanticises history. Ian Holm’s Napoleon rants drunkenly that the world’s greatest conquerors have all been under 5’1”, while John Cleese’s Robin Hood greets the peasantry with all the vacuous courtesy of a royal dignitary at a charity function. David Warner plays the wonderfully malevolent villain, a human Swiss army knife known only as Evil, while Sean Connery lends human warmth to the picaresque as a kindly King Agamemnon (the only character in the entire movie who seems to care whether the child hero lives or dies).

The humour is surreal, spiteful and very funny, while Gilliam’s imagination goes berserk in the final half, set in a make-believe era known as ‘the Time of Legends’. Here we find an irritable ogre stricken with lower-back pain, a gormless sea giant, and the gothic vision that is the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. The film’s £5 million budget evidently couldn’t keep up with Gilliam’s fevered visions, and a further two scenes had to be dropped (one involving a pair of spidery old ladies, the other a forest of monstrous hands).

The film’s imagination versus rationality theme climaxes with an ingenious skirmish in which a toy-littered bedroom becomes a sprawling battleground. Here the shape-shifting Evil creatively dismantles an army of cowboys, spaceships and tanks rallied from the annals of history. Even God Himself turns up (a priceless cameo from Ralph Richardson, looking like a slightly bewildered bank manager).

Despite favourable reviews, Time Bandits did only mediocre business in Britain, where it was unhelpfully and misleadingly marketed as a Python film. Promoted as a children’s picture in the United States, however, it became a huge success, despite US distributor Avco-Embassy’s reservations about the audaciously cruel ending.
Alec Worley, BFI Screenonline

Directed by: Terry Gilliam
©: HandMade Film Partnership
Presented by: HandMade Films
Executive Producers: George Harrison, Denis O’Brien
Produced by: Terry Gilliam
Associate Producer: Neville C. Thompson
Accountant: Brian Bailey
Accounts Secretary: Geraldine Dunn
Production Manager: Graham Ford
Location Manager: Patrick Cassavetti
2nd Unit Director: Julian Doyle
1st Assistant Director: Simon Hinkly
2nd Assistant Director: Guy Travers
3rd Assistant Directors: Mark Cooper, Chris Thompson
Continuity: Penny Eyles
Casting Director: Irene Lamb
Written by: Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam
Director of Photography: Peter Biziou
Camera Operator: David Garfath
Focus Puller: Bob Stilwell
Clapper Loader: Simon Fulford
Grip: Freddy Fry
Camera Equipment: Joe Dunton Cameras
Gaffers: Roy Rodhouse, Reg Parsons
Best Boy: Chuck Finch
Stills: Clive Coote
Optical Effects: Kent Houston, Paul Whitbread
Assisted by: Tim Ollive, Dennis De Groot, Peerless Camera Company
Matte Paintings: Ray Caple
Special Effects Senior Technician: John Bunker
Special Effects Technician: Ross King
Special Effects Consultants: Chris Verner, Andy Thompson
Special Effects Modellers: Chris Overs, Lewis Coleman
Trolls Made by: Ray Scott
Wireman: Bob Harman
Modelmaker: Val Charlton
Models Photographed by: Julian Doyle
Puppet Show by: John Styles
Editor: Julian Doyle
Assistant Editor: Rodney Glenn
2nd Assistant Editor: Adam Unger
Production Designer: Milly Burns
Art Director: Norman Garwood
Assistant Art Director: Celia Barnett
Fortress of Ultimate Darkness by: Westbridge Studios
Draughtsman: Steve Cooper
Sculptors: Geoff Rivers Bland, Laurie Warburton
Production Buyer: Karen Brookes
Property Master: Peter Grant
Construction Manager: Peter Verard
Costumes Designed by: Jim Acheson
In association with: Hazel Coté
Assistant Costume Designer: T. Stephen Miles
Costumiers: Richard Cattermole, Dorothy Williams
Wardrobe Mistress: Dorothea Smylie
Hairdressing/Make-up by: Maggie Weston, Elaine Carew
Wigs/Beards Made by: Kenneth Lintott
Music Score Composed/Orchestrated by: Mike Moran
Greek Dance Music: Trevor Jones
Additional Music: Music De Wolfe, Ready Music
Songs/Additional Material by: George Harrison
Percussion Sequences by: Ray Cooper
Music Director: Harry Rabinowitz
Music Produced by: Ray Cooper
Greek Dance Choreography: Tom Jobe
Sound Mixer: Garth Marshall
Sound Engineer: John Richards
Boom Operator: Bob Doyle
Dubbing Mixers: Paul Carr, Brian Paxton
Music Production Sound Effects: André Jacquemin
Stunts Arranged by: Peter Brayham, Terry Yorke
Stunt Knight: Brian Bowes
Made at Lee International Studios

John Cleese (Robin Hood)
Sean Connery (King Agamemnon/fireman)
Shelley Duvall (Pansy)
Katherine Helmond (Mrs Ogre)
Ian Holm (Napoleon)
Michael Palin (Vincent)
Ralph Richardson (Supreme Being)
Peter Vaughan (Winston, the ogre)
David Warner (Evil Genius)
David Rappaport (Randall)
Kenny Baker (Fidgit)
Malcolm Dixon (Strutter)
Mike Edmonds (Og)
Jack Purvis (Wally)
Tiny Ross (Vermin)
Craig Warnock (Kevin)
David Daker (Trevor, Kevin’s father)
Sheila Fearn (Diane, Kevin’s mother)
Jim Broadbent (compère)
John Young (Reginald)
Myrtle Devenish (Beryl)
Brian Bowes (stunt knight/hussar)
Leon Lissek (1st refugee)
Terence Bayler (Lucien)
Preston Lockwood (Neguy)
Charles McKeown (theatre manager)
David Leland (puppeteer)
John Hughman (The Great Rumbozo)
Derrick O’Connor (robber leader)
Neil McCarthy (Marion, 3rd robber)
Declan Mulholland (2nd robber)
Peter Jonfield (arm wrestler)
Derek Deadman (Robert)
Jerold Wells (Benson)
Roger Frost (Cartwright)
Martin Carroll (Baxi Brazilia III)
Marcus Powell (Horseflesh)
Winston Dennis (bull-headed warrior)
Del Baker (Greek fighting warrior)
Juliette James (Greek Queen Clytemnestra)
Ian Muir (giant)
Mark Holmes (troll father)
Andrew MacLachlan (fireman)
Chris Grant (voice of TV announcer)
Tony Jay (voice of Supreme Being)
Edwin Finn (Supreme Being’s face)
James Acheson (man lifting up the horn) *
Terry Gilliam (voice of fireman) *
Ray Cooper (hands of God at end) *

UK 1981©
116 mins


The Time Machine
Mon 16 Oct 20:40; Sat 28 Oct 15:10; Mon 20 Nov 18:15
Time after Time
Sun 22 Oct 18:20; Mon 13 Nov 20:40
Time Bandits
Wed 25 Oct 20:45; Thus 26 Oct 14:40; Sun 5 Nov 11:30
Je t’aime je t’aime
Thu 26 Oct 20:40; Sat 18 Nov 18:30
Telling the Tales of Time + Q&A with Steve Nallon
Fri 27 Oct 18:15
Run Lola Run (Lola rennt)
Fri 27 Oct 20:45
Donnie Darko
Sat 28 Oct 18:00; Sat 11 Nov 20:20; Fri 17 Nov 20:45
Somewhere in Time
Thu 2 Nov 20:30; Sat 18 Nov 14:20
The TARDIS: The Most Famous Time Machine in the Universe
Sat 4 Nov 12:00
Comedy Time-Travel Special with writer Rob Grant, actor Robert Llewellyn, exec producer Paul Jackson and director Ed Bye – Red Dwarf: Backwards + Timewasters
Sun 5 Nov 14:15
Planet of the Apes
Thu 9 Nov 20:45
Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem) + **La Jetée
Fri 10 Nov 20:40; Sat 25 Nov 15:00
The Tomorrow People: A Rift in Time + Q&A
Sat 11 Nov 12:00
Sat 18 Nov 20:45; Tue 28 Nov 18:20
Lazarus Table Reading
Sun 19 Nov 15:15
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Dorosute no hate de bokura) + Felix the Cat Trifles with Time
Tue 21 Nov 18:30; Thu 23 Nov 21:00

12 Monkeys + La Jetée
Sun 22 Oct 11:30
The Terminator + Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Mon 30 Oct 18:30
Back to the Future Trilogy
Sun 19 Nov 11:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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