Strong language about BBFC cuts for strong language
In May 2012, director Ken Loach premiered this new film, The Angels' Share, at the Cannes Film Festival. A comedy drama set in Scotland, the film centres around a young offender named Robbie who sees an opportunity to change his life for
the better through the theft of an extremely rare vintage whiskey. It was Loach's eleventh film in 31 years to compete in the festival, and it went on to win the Jury Prize.
with a few strong words about the BBFC
However, the version of the film that was shown at Cannes was a censored version that had been specially prepared for British cinema going audiences. Speaking of the film at a press conference at Cannes, the film's producer Rebecca O'Brien
"We have actually had to remove some words from the version that you have seen here so that it could be a 15. The language in the film is the language that these young people speak; it's completely natural and I think
if [the BBFC are] looking for diversity in Britain they need look no further than this film and Glasgow. There are different ways of speaking and that should be acceptable to all and should not be censored".
So how did this censored version of the film come about? The Angels' Share was submitted to the British Board of Film Classification for a theatrical certificate by E One Films with a request for a 15 rating. Upon submission, the BBFC informed
the filmmakers that the film would actually receive an 18 certificate for its amount of (what they term) "very strong language." To put it plainly, the film contained too many uses of the word 'cunt' to quality for a 15 certificate.
The BBFC guidelines (which are based on public consultation and revised every four years or so) stated at the time that:
"[At '15'], there may be frequent use of strong language (for example, 'fuck'). 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
Loach was bamboozled by the situation, remarking that such discussions with the BBFC entered the "world of surrealism." He went to say that:
"We were allowed seven cunts... but only two of them could be aggressive cunts. The British middle-class is obsessed by what they call bad language. The odd oath... they will ask you to cut. But the manipulative and
deceitful language of politics they use themselves. So I think we should re-examine what we mean by bad language and have respect for our ancient oaths and swear words which we all enjoy".
The film's scriptwriter, Paul Laverty, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that the BBFC was insensitive to the context of the word's use:
"You wee cunt' is often a term of endearment... but [the BBFC] transpose it as if it were on a public address system at the Royal Opera. They take it out of context. They have an obsession with that word. There are many films they have
given a 15 certificate to that, I think, are full of pornographic violence or racism or cruelty that is not fit for 15-year-olds, and they show that with no problem at all, so I think there is tremendous hypocrisy".
Commentator Brendan O'Neill, writing for The Daily Telegraph, also weighed in on the BBFC's decision to demand cuts of the film, remarking:
"The British Board of Film Classification gets barmier by the day. It now tells us that there is an acceptable and unacceptable way to say the word "cunt". If, as in Ken Loach's new movie The Angels' Share, the characters in a
film say that word in an "aggressive" fashion, then the film will be stamped with an 18 certificate. But if they were to utter the c-word in a "non-aggressive" fashion, then the film could be granted a more lenient, box
office-friendly 15 certificate. So Loach, whose new film is based in Glasgow, where the c-word abounds, has been forced to excise the more aggressive uses of the word in order for his film to be a 15. He is rightly annoyed".
The BBFC cuts for strong language
Regardless of the filmmakers' feelings about the nature of the cuts that were demanded of them, they chose to implement the necessary changes mandated by the BBFC and cuts were made to the film's very strong language. Let's take a look at the
cuts that were made to the film for its original UK cinema release. The BBFC state that there are seven uses of the word 'cunt' in the cut version and 15 in the uncut version. However, we counted eight uses in the cut version. It's worth noting
that in an interview with Empire Magazine in 2012, Paul Laverty stated that the BBFC actually missed one further use of the word in the cut version, which would suggest that our count is accurate. In the following discussion, we've highlighted
the appropriate words that are different or missing in the censored version.
Cut Scenes: Medical jargon
The first instance of censorship occurs around 12 minutes into the film. After Robbie tries to see his newly-born son in hospital, he is beaten up by his girlfriend's two uncles and her father, Matt. As Robbie is dragged down the corridor,
one of the men hisses at him. In the 15 version, the words in bold red are muted on the soundtrack.
"Shut up will ya, ya wee cunt! "
Cut Scenes: Phone speak
Afterwards, Robbie's community service officer, Harry, helps him tend to his wounds. Robbie bemoans what Matt did to his mobile phone in the aforementioned fight. The censored version omits the word 'cunt' on the soundtrack:
"Fucking cunt smashed my phone, man."
Cut Scenes: Road rage
The third cut occurs during a flashback scene where one of Robbie's victims recounts the events of the night Robbie assaulted him. After the victim's car swerves close to the curb forcing Robbie to quickly move out of the way, he shouts
angrily at the driver through the car window. This line was muted in the 15 version:
" Ya fucking cunt! "
Cut Scenes: Street talk
Another instance of censorship occurs around 42 minutes into the film, after Robbie flees from his old enemy Clancy who shouts out at Robbie in the street. The end of the line was trimmed for the 15 version:
"Ya wee fuck ing cunt ! "
Cut Scenes: Car talk
A few moments later, Clancy and his boys shout after Robbie again after Matt helps Robbie escape from the confrontation in the street. The exact dialogue is difficult to discern amongst the commotion, but the uncut version features a further
two uses of very strong language. In the censored version, the dialogue is, again, partially muted:
" Cunt! Ya wee cunt !"
Cut Scenes: Threatening words
The seventh cut occurs after Robbie's confrontation with Sniper, one of Clancy's associates, who has followed Robbie and his girlfriend to their new flat. Following Robbie's threatening of Sniper with a knife, Robbie takes Sniper's cell
phone and Sniper demands it back. Robbie's aggressive reply was partially muted on the soundtrack in the 15 version:
"Fuck you, cunt ."
Cut Scenes: Stolen words
The final cut to language occurs around 70 minutes into the film where Robbie explains to his friends about his plan to steal the whiskey:
"When we go in, youse will cover me. Nae cunt will see us . "
In the 15 version, the offending phrase highlighted above was redubbed with ' nae one will see us '.
Following changes mandated by the BBFC, The Angels' Share was passed 15 for a cinema release on May 16th 2012, with the Board noting that the film:
"Contains very strong language and strong violence."
Justifying their decision, the BBFC state on their website that:
"The film contains multiple uses of strong language throughout and seven clear uses of very strong language. A single aggressive use of very strong language occurs when the central character is confronted by members of a gang in a pool
hall. The use occurs amidst angry shouting as he attempts to stand up for himself. Other aggressive uses of very strong language that were originally present have been dubbed out. The other instances of non aggressive very strong language tend
to be used in a throwaway manner and often occur during remarks between friends."
The 100% Proof Edition
The cut version and the uncut '100% Proof Edition' are both available in the UK.
The cut 15 version was later released on DVD in the UK, but the original uncut version was passed with an 18 rating on August 15th 2012. This version was released solely on Blu-ray in the UK, which was marketed as "The Original 100% Proof
Edition" to differentiate it from the censored theatrical version. British fans of the film seeking the uncut version can pick up the UK Blu-ray, safe in the knowledge that they are seeing Ken Loach's original version of the film. American
viewers can pick up this same uncut version on DVD, which is unrated due to the fact that the film was not submitted to the MPAA for classification.
In closing, it may be worth mentioning that this is not the only time that Ken Loach has butted heads with the BBFC about bad language in his films. His 2002 film, Sweet Sixteen (which is also set in Scotland), originally came in to the BBFC
with a request for a 15 certificate but the Board refused to issue such a certificate due to the film's use of around 20 uses of the word 'cunt'. The BBFC explained the situation in their 2002 annual report, noting that:
"[Loach] maintained that the naturalistic dialogue would be familiar to 15 year-olds for whom he felt the film had particular appeal. In exchanges with the distributor and director, the Board explained that the frequency and tone of the
language could neither be accommodated nor defended at '15' under its commitments to the public (and the rest of the film industry) in the Board's Guidelines."
Loach ultimately accepted an uncut 18 rating for Sweet Sixteen, although two councils overruled the BBFC's rating -- as is their right -- and issued the film with a 15 rating.
Special thanks to Emma Lawson and Rebecca O'Brien at Sixteen Films for their invaluable help in the creation of this artic
Cutting Edge Video, Season Three, Episode 45: The Angels' Share
Now in High Definition
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional
help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC
for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.