Great Britain

The British Board of Film Classification has been responsible over cinema since 1913, and video since 1985. It is not a government body, and it totally independent.

The British Board of Film Censors (as it was called in the early 1900's) was established to make censorship standardized, as local authorities were then imposing their own standards, which varied greatly.

The ultimate power still remained with local council, they could overrule any decision that the board made, but by the mid 1920's, any decision made by the board was generally accepted by local councils.

In 1984, the British parliament passed the Video Recordings Act, which stated that "videos offered for sale or hire commercially in the UK must be classified by an authority designated by the Home Secretary".

After this had happened, the British Board Of Film Censors was renamed to the British Board Of Film Classification, to show that the board now had a larger role than just censorship.

More about the history of the BBFC can be obtained by clicking here.

The British Board of Film Classification has set 8 different classifications, ranging from Uc (Pre-School age) to R18 (Restricted to those over 18 years of age).

Uc: Films classified Uc are suitable for pre-school children.

U: Films classified under Universal, are suitable for audiences of 4 years and over. The themes are appropriate for young children, and violence is mild. Occasional natural nudity, and mild sexual behavior and references (such as kissing, and 'making love') is permitted. Horror scenes should be mild, and the outcome reassuring, while no drug references are to made unless there is an educational aspect to it. Bad language is infrequent, and anything dangerous that young children are likely to copy will not be shown.

PG: Parents are advised to supervise children who are sensitive or very young, however, there are no legal restrictions, and PG films should not disturb children aged above 8 years old. Unsupervised children are permitted to watch films under this classifications. More serious themes are outlined than in U rated films, while mild bad language can be expected. Sexual activity may be implied, but be infrequent and mild. Natural nudity is permitted, as long as no sexual context is attached to it. Violence may be moderate, but must be justified by its setting. Horror scenes should not be intense, and any drug references must be innocuous, or in addition to an appropriate message (such as an anti-drug message). No details of potentially dangerous behaviour which a child is likely to imitate is accepted.

12: Nobody younger than 12 years of age may rent or buy a 12 rated film. It is the responsibility of a supervising adult that children under 12 do not view the films without adult supervision. Mature themes are acceptable, but must be targeted to a teenage audience. The use of strong language (such as f***) has to be infrequent. Sexual activity may be implied and references may reflect what is likely to be familiar to most teenagers, it should not go beyond what is suitable for them however. Sexual violence can be implied, or briefly and discreetly indicated. Other forms of violence must not be in huge detail, with no great emphasis on injury. Misuse of drugs must be infrequent, and should not be glamorized. Horror is permitted, while gory scenes should only be occasional. Dangerous techniques and behaviour (such as dealing with combat, suicide etc) must not be glamorized or appear free of harm. It must not be in imitable detail.

12A: The same guidelines that apply to 12 rated films, apply to 12A rated films. However, any child under 12 years of age may not see a 12A classified film without the supervision of an adult.

15: Nobody younger than 15 may see films classified 15 in a cinema, or rent / buy these films. No themes are prohibited, provided they are suitable for 15 year olds. Strong language may be frequent, but the strongest terms (such as c***) are only acceptable when the context justifies it. Continued and aggressive use of the strongest language is rarely acceptable. Nudity is permitted in a sexual context without strong detail, there are no restrictions on nudity in an educational or non-sexual context though. Sexual activity may be expressed without strong detail, and there may be strong verbal references to sex. Sexual violence must be discreet and brief. Violence might be strong, but emphasis should not be on the infliction of pain / injury. Drugs taking may be shown, but the film mustn't encourage drug use. Strong horror scenes are acceptable, but it isn't likely that the strongest of gory images are. Dangerous techniques and behaviour (such as dealing with combat, suicide etc) must not be glamorized. It must not be in imitable detail.

18: An 18 rated film must not be seen by anyone under 18 years of age in a cinema, and under 18's must not buy or rent 18 rated films. Once an individual reaches the age of 18, they are considered an adult. The BBFC do not normally override the the wish that adults can choose their own entertainment, as long as it is within the law. Some exceptions, may be material that the BBFC feels could risk harm to people, or through behaviour, to society as a whole. An example of this is the portrayal of sexual violence which might endorce sexual assault. With this type of material, the BBFC may have to intervene.

In the case of Video Cassettes and DVD's, the BBFC may be less lenient, and intervention more frequent, as these types of media are more accessible to young viewers.

Educational videos regarding sex will be classified in the 18 category, and exceptions to the normal guidelines when it comes to explicit images can be made, in the interest of the public. However, such explicit detail must be kept to the necessary minimum to illustrate the point being made.

Sex works are often on Video Cassettes and DVD's, their primary purpose being sexual stimulation or arousal. These works containing simulated material are normally in the 18 category. Clear images of actual sex will be classified as R18 though.

R18: Films classified under the R18 category, are restricted to adults, 18 years and over. These films can only be seen in specially licensed cinemas, and purchased in sex stores. They cannot be purchased via mail order. It is a special (and legally restricted) category, as it is primarily for explicit sex works between adults. Content that is unacceptable in R18 films, is material that is in breach of criminal law, material likely to encourage an interest in sexual abuse, portrayal of sexual activity without consent (this includes any form of restraint which prevents those involved indicating withdrawl of consent), infliction of harm or pain, and any sexual threats, humiliation or abuse. Strong abuse, even if consent has been given, is likely to be unacceptable.

Related Links:

British Board of Film Classification