U.K. film censor relaxes sex guidelines

But takes stricter line on depiction of solvent abuse

LONDON -- The U.K. filmgoing public is no longer shouting, "no sex please, we're British," but solvent abuse remains a definite no-no, according to the British Board of Film Classification.

The censor on Tuesday issued its latest set of classification guidelines -- which the body does every four years -- following consultation with about 9,000 people 16 and older.

Since the guidelines in 2005, the BBFC noted a slight softening in attitude towards the depiction of sex onscreen but increasing major concerns over solvent abuse onscreen.

As part of the research, respondents were specifically asked about explicit images of real sex in mainstream films such as Michael Winterbottom's "9 Songs," which secured an "18" certificate at time of release despite containing explicit sex scenes. The BBFC said the clear message was that these images were acceptable at 18 "because of the context in which they appeared."

But the survey also threw up concerns on the depiction of activities such as glue-sniffing onscreen.

The BBFC has stiffened rules for such activities when movies are granted a "15" certificate. Solvent abuse will now be a specific classification issue and depictions are unlikely to be passed with that certificate now. The BBFC said the change came not only on the back of public concern, but also because of "expert opinion" on the matter.

BBFC director David Cooke said: "The BBFC is committed to consulting the public every four years to ensure that the guidelines we use to classify all works which are submitted to us not only take account of relevant U.K. legislation, but accurately reflect public attitudes and concerns."

Cooke said there is sometimes an assumption that "public attitudes are becoming more relaxed as time goes on," but pointed out that that "is not always the case."

"A number of specific concerns which emerged from the extensive consultation exercise, involving over 8,700 people, as well as the members of our Advisory Panel on Children's Viewing and other experts, have been incorporated in the guidelines," Cooke said.

Cooke and company will be pleased with the BBFC's visibility and impact. According to the report, 82% of those surveyed thought that the BBFC was "an effective regulator."

The same people agreed with the ratings given to the films they had watched "in 99% of all cases."

Said Cooke: "There will always be people who think that we are either too restrictive or too liberal, but it is clear that as far as the vast majority of the U.K. public is concerned the BBFC is getting it right."

The BBFC classifies thousands of works a year and said which were clearly "U," or "15," or "PG" or "12A" under the old guidelines would still be in the same category under the new guidelines. But works which fell on the borderline between two categories previously could now find themselves being pushed into a different category.