The World’s End: Letters to the censor

When Simon Pegg and I wrote the screenplay for ‘The World’s End’ in 2011, we realised that the language was getting rather strong, going so far as to utter the dreaded ‘c word’ three times. Unsure whether this would get us a ’15′ or an ’18′ certificate and very much hoping for the former, I wrote to the British Board Of Film Classification for help and guidance.

The following correspondence is published with the full blessing of the BBFC.

From: Edgar Wright

To: Hammad Khan

Date: 19/10/2011 13:51

Subject: Hey there

Thanks for listening.

So basically, an easy question for you.

We are writing a script at the moment where the word ‘cunt’ appears several times with a comedic tone. All very much in a naturalistic, social context rather than an aggressive, threatening one.

I know that this word appeared once only in both ‘Shaun’ & ‘Hot Fuzz’, but is it the case that using the word more than once would push the film from a 15 to an 18?

Love to find out what the guidelines are. Thanks for any help on this one.

Edgar

On 20 Oct 2011, at 15:07, Craig Lapper wrote:

Dear Mr Wright,

Thank you for your email, which Hammad Khan has passed on to me.

The BBFC’s Guidelines at ’15′ state ‘The strongest terms (for example, ‘cunt’) may be acceptable if justified by the context. Aggressive or repeated use of the strongest language is unlikely to be acceptable’.

As a general rule, it is highly unusual for the BBFC to permit more than three or four uses of very strong language at ’15′ in a feature length work. In terms of context, it is more likely that we would pass throwaway, matter-of-fact, or comic uses than uses that are aggressive, personally directed, or accompanied by complicating factors such as violence, threat, racism, or a power imbalance (for example, male to female uses are more of a problem than the other way around). In an extreme case, even a single aggressive use can push a film to ’18′ (for example, if a man were hitting a woman and calling her a cunt, or a man of one race hitting a person of a different race and using very strong language in combination with racist terms). Similarly, putting several uses together in a very short space of time may breach the ‘repeated’ section of our Guidelines and cause problems at ’15′. It is generally better if uses are spread out somewhat.

As you say, we passed a single use in SHAUN OF THE DEAD because the use in question was throwaway, unthreatening, and essentially a term of endearment amongst friends (“Can I get any of you cunts a drink?”). In the case of HOT FUZZ we actually permitted two uses, one spoken and one written. First of all, we see the word ‘cunt’ on the list of prohibited terms on the swearbox in the police station and then we hear “What a cunt” when a man tells his friend about a man who sold drugs to kids. In the first case, the use was written (which reduces its impact) and of course lacked any aggression. In the second case, the use was not aggressive and was not personally directed but instead uttered about a person who is not present at the time.

So, the answer to your question is that it is possible to receive a ’15′ with three or four uses, provided they are not aggressive or threatening or complicated by any kind of power imbalance. However, it’s best not to concentrate them together into a short outburst and we’d certainly caution against more than three or four uses.

I hope that’s helpful to you.

Craig Lapper,

Senior Examiner

On 1 Nov 2011, at 15:07, Edgar Wright wrote:

Hey there,

Sorry for the belated response, but thank you for an incredibly thorough response.

This is very helpful and I think what we’ve already written fits into your guidelines for a 15.

Thanks for taking the time to respond so fully.

Edgar

‘The World’s End’ is on general release in the UK and Ireland and is rated ’15′ for containing ‘very strong language and strong sex references’.

Comments

22 Responses to “The World’s End: Letters to the censor”
  1. KravenWTF says:

    This is a way better response and reasonable than you can expect from the MPAA (were you’re lucky if they tell you anything)

  2. Miriam Pia says:

    Being American I just feel ‘all culturally competent’ because I can tell it’s more a matter of a cricket wicket, so to speak than sliding into a base.

  3. the dude says:

    Can I get any of you cunts a 15 rating?

  4. ☆ Anna Lark ☆ says:

    So brilliant.

  5. AmberGrindstaff says:

    I’m glad it’s Rated R here,maybe it’ll keep screaming babies/pre-teens on their phones away ;)

  6. Peetuh Pahkeh says:

    So…(rubs head)… A man beating the shit out of a woman by itself is acceptable for 15-year-old audiences in the UK, but the adding of that word brings it up to an “18″ rating? Something’s fishy with that.

  7. MikeAlgar42 says:

    Basically. Had a lecture on the BBFC with one of the ‘watchers’ once. It is all stored on hand. Most films are watched by one individual based on guidelines and in extreme cases can be passed and watched by teams. The Human Centipede had just been released and it was heavily cited as the latter.

  8. Daniel says:

    Love it.

  9. No Name says:

    They either keep very good notes or are huge Hot Fuzz fans – and either way, good on them. They strike me as being much more thoughtful and nuanced about it than MPAA.

  10. John Barrie says:

    Wow….your ratings board is so polite.

  11. mattgrimley says:

    They do earn their money.. it was about 15 watches of Hot fuzz before i noticed the “written” occurrence!

  12. Stephen Feehily says:

    Haha nice one! Love the detail. Craig sounds like a bit of a fanboy, and why wouldn’t he be!?
    So that’s the BBFC, how’d we doing with Americas version? We keeping the cunts? Or will that result in the godforsaken R rating? Then again, unless you have subtitles most of America won’t even realise anyone said cunt…

    All I really want to know is this; Are we (in america) getting the exact same version as the rest of the civilized English speaking world?

  13. Joe Major says:

    Very impressed by the response there, I’ve always (unreasonably) imagined that they would be much harder to work with.

  14. GeekFurious says:

    What if you wrote something like “I have a bag full of cunts with your name on it”? Would they just count that as one cunt or is a bag full of cunts excessive?

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