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9 Songs Sex Scenes: Censors’ Surprising Decision Angers Some

9 Songs sex scenes Kieran O’Brien Margo Stilley9 Songs’ sex scenes featuring leads Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley led to censorship concerns in the U.K. But some are now angry that the members of the British Board of Film Classification have allowed Michael Winterbottom’s indie to be released uncut.
  • Despite their graphic nature, 9 Songs’ sex scenes have not prevented the British Board of Film Classification from granting Michael Winterbottom’s psychological romantic drama an “18 certificate” rating. Some aren’t thrilled about the decision.

9 Songs’ sex scenes notwithstanding, British censors green-light Michael Winterbottom’s erotic psychological drama

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Screenwriter-director Michael Winterbottom’s latest effort, 9 Songs, has just been granted approval for release in the United Kingdom. Uncut.

Why is this news?

It’s simple: 9 Songs’ sex scenes have created quite a stir, as they leave nothing to the imagination. And although the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has relaxed its anti-screen-sex policies in recent years, it still demands that films be cut due to sexual content.

“People who have seen [9 Songs],” asserts leading man Kieran O’Brien, “even though they are forewarned about how explicit it is, come out of the cinema saying they can’t believe that it’s so explicit.”

That’s why the BBFC’s green light for Winterbottom’s psychological/romantic drama comes as a somewhat startling surprise.

‘Exceptionally justified’ explicit sex

According to BBFC chief assistant in charge of policy Craig Lapper, “We don’t normally allow depictions of unsimulated sex in an 18 film [no one under 18 allowed], unless they can be exceptionally justified by the context of the film.”

Apparently, the required “exceptional justification” has been forthcoming in this particular instance.

British prudes, however, have been unhappy with the censors’ less strict approach to sexual content, with one outraged conservative MP declaring, “It seems to me that the board have ignored their own guidelines and this could be against the law.”

The BBFC’s explicit sex pioneers

And yet, 9 Songs is hardly the first sexually explicit title to receive a BBFC certificate.

The first English-language film featuring graphic sex scenes to be approved by the BBFC was Patrice Chéreau’s 2001 drama Intimacy, based on stories by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), and starring Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) and Mark Rylance (Angels and Insects) as once-a-week lovers. Intimacy was given an “18 certificate.”

Another recipient of the BBFC’s blessing was Catherine Breillat’s 1999 French psychological drama Romance, featuring adult film star Rocco Siffredi. Home video copies, however, suffered a one-second cut to prevent viewers from witnessing an ejaculation bit.

The following year, another sexually explicit French-made release, Virginie Despentes and former adult film actress Coralie Trinh Thi’s revenge thriller Rape Me / Baise-moi, was also granted an “18 certificate,” but only after a brutal rape scene had been excised from the film.

BBFC certificate in spite of nine-minute rape sequence

Curiously, a third French production, Gaspar Noé’s 2002 revenge drama Irreversible, starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, and Albert Dupontel, was given the BBFC’s certificate – with no cuts – despite a graphic nine-minute scene depicting the savage rape of Bellucci’s character in an urban underpass.

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

On the BBFC’s website, it’s explained that “there was strong support for passing the work uncut at [the 18 certificate level], despite many examiners declaring the film to be both challenging and grueling.”

Irreversible was the 2002 Bronze Horse winner at the Stockholm Film Festival and, tied with Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions, was selected as the San Diego Film Critics Society’s Best Foreign Language Film of 2003.

How to handle graphic cinematic ‘lovemaking’

Screened at the Cannes and San Sebastian film festivals earlier this year, 9 Songs revolves around the relationship between a British climatologist, Matt (former teen actor Kieran O’Brien), and an American exchange student, Lisa (North Carolina-born newcomer Margo Stilley).

Throughout the film, their intimate scenes are interspersed with trips to rock concerts. Featured bands include The Dandy Warhols, Super Furry Animals, Franz Ferdinand, and Primal Scream.

Michael Winterbottom – whose credits include Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), Wonderland (1999), and this year’s Best Foreign Language Film BAFTA winner In This World (set in Pakistan) – discussed in The Observer his approach to the sex scenes in 9 Songs:

“We wanted to try and deal with a part of the relationship which most films just avoid completely. Books can deal with sex in the same way they deal with any other aspect of a relationship but films just skip over it because everyone knows it’s fake and therefore not really worth engaging with. The idea was to deal with the sex in exactly the same way we deal with anything else in the film.”

Update: With its sex scenes left intact, 9 Songs was also approved for release in Australia.

9 Songs Sex Scenes: Censors’ Surprising Decision Angers Some” notes

Margo Stilley and Kieran O’Brien 9 Songs movie image: Revolution Films.

9 Songs Sex Scenes: Censors’ Surprising Decision Angers Some” last updated in December 2022.

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