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Film censor gets tougher on sex and violence age ratings – but cools on cannabis

BBFC survey respondents watched 33 films, including the 1964 James Bond adventure ‘Goldfinger’  (Eon Production)
BBFC survey respondents watched 33 films, including the 1964 James Bond adventure ‘Goldfinger’ (Eon Production)

Britons are increasingly turned off by onscreen sex and violence, according to the latest research by Britain’s film censor, which is now recommending tougher age ratings.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has introduced tougher restrictions on guidelines for sex, nudity and violence in 12 and 12A productions – but has eased on scenes about drug use.

The institution says that the public has become concerned about the amount of sexual and violent content young people are exposed to.

After surveying 12,000 people, the BBFC found that public opinion had shifted, with respondents calling for a more cautious approach to sex and violence scenes in 12/12A films.

Respondents were shown 28 trailers, 151 clips and 33 films, including the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger.

The BBFC’s president, Natasha Kaplinsky, said that while the portrayal of sex, violence and nudity caused concern, respondents took a more relaxed view around some drug use, such as smoking cannabis, “so long as it is not detailed, glamorised or frequent”.

The former BBC journalist told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there is a “slight lessening of anxiety around dope and weed and solvency abuse in younger categories”.

‘Bob Marley: One Love’ would have been a 15 due to the frequent use of marijuana but was made a 12A under new guidelines (Paramount Pictures)
‘Bob Marley: One Love’ would have been a 15 due to the frequent use of marijuana but was made a 12A under new guidelines (Paramount Pictures)

She said that the research informed the organisation’s classification of the new Bob Marley biopic One Love, which features frequent use of marijuana.

“Normally, according to past guidelines terms, it would have been a 15 but because we had sight of a consultation, we were able to give [One Love] a 12A,” she explained.

“The public has told us that there is a greater tolerance of dope and the message of One Love is about peace and marijuana is completely essential to the Rastafarian religion and it made sense to give that film a 12A rather than a 15.”

The new guidelines for age ratings will likely affect how films are reclassified.

The 1964 film Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews, was given a change in rating during the reclassification process and moved from a U to a PG due to the use of discriminatory language in the film.

Ms Kaplinsky said the organisation had to adapt to an “ever-evolving world”.

‘Mary Poppins’ was recently re-classified from a U to a PG (Rex)
‘Mary Poppins’ was recently re-classified from a U to a PG (Rex)

She said: “Since we last asked people across the country what they thought about our standards, society has changed and opinions have followed – it’s fascinating how this vast body of new research reflects this.”

Another area of concern in the survey was the use of language such as “bitch”, “son of a bitch” and “d***”. Other language with sexual or misogynistic connotations was highlighted as problematic by viewers. The organisation found that such language might require a higher rating with this in mind.

Audiences were found to be in favour of the way violence was classified but expressed concern about how “disturbing some forms of violence can be”. As such, higher ratings may be required for violence across all types of age classifications.

The BBFC chief executive, David Austin, said: “The effectiveness of what we do relies entirely on trust. To ensure we have that trust, and to get to the heart of what audiences think and feel, we go directly to them.

“Only by doing this can we ensure we are classifying content in line with the expectations of families across the UK. This is essential to maintaining the extraordinarily high levels of public trust that the BBFC is privileged to enjoy.”

Every four to five years, the BBFC updates its standard to reflect public opinion.