Film Regulation


Key trend over time- Liberalisation and rationalisation


Moralistic paternalism          ————————>          Bureaucratic protectionism

Unwritten rules                                                                                      Published guidelines

Shared values                                                                                          Public consultation

Rigid moral code                                                                                   Child protection

“We know what’s best for you”


BBFC (British Board of Film Censorship) was set up to avoid government censorship of the film industry.

If the industry regulates itself, then it controls regulation.

BBFC established ———> Prohibits “indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles”                                          Introduction of  “U”, “A” and “H” symbols

|                                                        as well as “unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing” , ect.                              |

|                                                                                                                                                                                                               |

1912 ———————————-1920’s———————————————————————–1930’s—————————————1940’s

Pre-war Victorian values                                                                                                                                                     Inter-war years: General strike, Depression and decline of the Empire

In the USA- Production code

“Law of compensating values”- Bad guys must be punished
An example of the strictness of regulation at the time is the 1953 film “The Wild One”. The film was banned for 14 years by the BBFC, until being given an “X” rating in 1967.

You can watch an excerpt of the film here-

By today’s standards the idea this film could be banned is laughable considering how tame it is in our modern context. However the main character portrayed by Marlon Brando acts in a way which at the time would have been unacceptable, yet still walks away at the end- which in accordance with the “law of compensating values”, is unacceptable.


Censorship changes

1951- “X” category introduced—————–> “The Wild One” release delayed for 14 years for                                              “X” raised to 18

|                                                                                                “spectacle of unbridled hooliganism”                                                               |

|                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           |


Post-war prosperity                                               Baby-boomers come of age               Lady Chatterley’s                   The dream sours,

and birth of the teenager                                     “sexual and social liberation”             lover trial                                  economic unrest

BBFC becomes “British Board of Film Classification

Guidelines for consumers


1984 Video Recordings Act

-Videos were not required to be certified

-“Video nasties” caused tabloid moral panic (e.g. “Driller Killer” and “The Evil Dead”)

1990’s- very rare for films to be cut (as it is for today)


BBFC vision statement-

Heavily entrenched in the effects debate- which has no evidence to support it.


70’s- Change over between moralistic paternalism and Bureaucratic protectionism. BBFC were behind the times, most censored decade, 26.7% of films cut, 3.2% banned outright.

Legal Framework

-Video recordings act 1984-Requires BBFC to have special regard for any harm to those likely to view a video

-Cinematograph films (animals) act 1937- Illegal to show any cruelty to animals

-Protection of children act 1978- Illegal to show indecent photographs of anyone under 18

-Obscene publications act 1959- Illegal to show a work that is obscene with tendency to “deprave and corrupt” a significant portion of the audience.

At 18 rating, they try to allow everything with exception to that which is illegal, e.g. sexual abuse of Michelle in “Ill Manors” is allowed because it is condemned by the film, if it were portrayed positively, the film would be banned.



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