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