With The King's Speech out in cinemas this week, I'm reminded of the hoo-hah that went on back in October when the BBFC reclassified the film from a 15 certificate to a 12A. The issue, of course, was the swearing: in training King George VI to overcome his stammer, Geoffrey Rush gets Colin Firth to say "fuck". 42 times. The BBFC didn't like that very much and slapped it with a 15 sticker, only to be criticised by director Tom Hooper.
Hooper pointed out that other recent films with graphic content, such as Daniel Craig's bollock-smashing torture in Casino Royale (i.e. films that were not polite period biopics), were awarded 12A labels. Then came The Great Reclassification of 2010. Scandalous.
Matters weren't helped by Made in Dagenham, which got a 15 certificate for its fuck-heavy dialogue (hello, Bob Hoskins) but also told a polite period story of women fighting for liberation. Stephen Woolley, the film's producer, was very vocal on the subject. Despite his appeals to the BBFC, Made in Dagenham stayed in 15+ territory. Certifigate was in full swing.
The argument is that The King’s Speech contains swearing that isn’t used in an aggressive manner. Unlike Made in Dagenham’s period-accurate banter, Colin Firth’s swearing is not directed at other people. It "contains strong language in a speech therapy context".
Context. It sounds like a fair argument, but is hacking someone's limbs off in a Quentin Tarantino context ok? What about making a human centipede in a science experiment context? Dumb examples, yes. How about Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, then, where ickle John Connor swears a few times? "Fuck you! You fucking machine!" he shouts in an aggressive emo way at Arnold Schwarzenegger's machine. Is it the talking robot context that got it a 12A?
Still, context aside, The King's Speech is a fantastic bit of film. If I did have a child, I'd want them to see something that’s educational and proves cinema isn't all about animated characters voiced by Russell Brand. My imaginary 12 year old kid would have his/her (it's an androgynous android) eyes opened. My imaginary 8 year old (actually a dog with a face mask on) couldn't care less, but I wouldn't take it anyway. It'd just get bored.
The question of sheltering children is perhaps erroneous these days, but if I had a choice as a parent, I'm not sure I'd want my imaginary robot/dog offspring exposed to bad language or violence. A bit prudish of me, some might say, but I’d rather them not turn into a rude chav ahead of schedule. There's are good reasons for censorship in some circumstances.
The problem actually comes down to the ridiculous 12A certificate, which is industry speak for "ram the family in and triple the profits". If the 12 certificate still existed in cinemas (as it does for home entertainment), The King's Speech wouldn't pose a problem. Kids at the age of 13 have heard "fuck" enough times to know what it is, but under 12s? They see pretty posters and loud trailers and pester their parents to take them to see any old film. Lots of parents just don’t care and ignore any information from the BBFC, so it’s a free-for-all for borderline movies like The Dark Knight.
In the case of The King's Speech, it's some harmless language in an educational film that would benefit youngsters. But Certifigate is a reminder that, whether the BBFC are getting less relaxed or not, the 12A rating just makes things worse. There's overreaction to a naughty word, and there's over-complication of the whole rating system. A 13 year old getting inspired by Colin Firth's acting, that's great. A 7 year old getting upset by Heath Ledger disappearing a pencil into some guy’s face, not so much.
Producers can whine all they like about censorship (they often have a fair point), but the 12A certificate? It can go **** itself. 42 times.
- a serbiam film
- colin firth
- david seidler
- geoffrey rush
- king george vii
- made in dagenham
- stephen woolley