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Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K. With Tougher Restrictions on Sexual Content

The body that oversees film ratings in the U.K. is tightening its age restrictions and giving movies with certain types of sexual content older age ratings.

The British Board of Film Classification said the changes were in response to public demand after a consultation that took in the views of over 10,000 people in the U.K.

Specifically, the BBFC said that while it already applies a more restrictive rating to scenes depicting sexual threat and sexual violence, the public mood has shifted on in recent years, notably with regard to rape. It said that British audiences had asked for a stronger rating for such content and that it had amended its classifications accordingly.

In practice, it means that films with rape scenes will have at least a 15 rating (for viewers 15 years old and up), rather than a 12 certificate, as has sometimes been the case previously. In a BBC interview, BBFC boss David Austin used the example of Keira Knightley movie “The Duchess,” which showed a rape and had the lower age classification. That would no longer be the case under the new rules, which take effect next month, he said.

The public also asked for the top age rating of 18 to be applied to the strongest sexual references and particularly “the language of pornography,” said the BBFC, which has amended its guidelines accordingly.

“People are more comfortable with issues such as action violence, if it’s in a way that they are expecting – such as a Bond or ‘Bourne’ film,” said Austin. “We are updating our standards around depictions of sexual violence and very strong sex references to reflect changes in public attitudes.”

 The BBFC also wants its classifications to apply to the streaming services and online content. It said 97% of respondents to its consultation wanted the system that is used for theatrical movies and DVDs to apply to online fare.

“Over the last five years, the way we consume film and video has changed beyond all recognition,” Austin said. “That’s why it’s so important that there is consistency between what people watch on- and offline. The research shows that parents and teenagers want us to give them the information and guidance that they need to view what’s right for them.”

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