When the BBFC updates the certification for an older film, it usually means they are relaxing their standards and acknowledging that times have changed. This can be compared to strict parents allowing their teenagers to have a glass of wine with dinner. The Alien franchise, originally rated 18, is now classified as a 15.
However, the recent decision to reclassify the 1978 animated version of Watership Down – a beloved tale of wild rabbits – from U to PG (Parental Guidance) is a prime example of increasing puritanism within censorship. The film has been deemed violent due to scenes depicting “bloody bite and claw injuries”. However, it is this very violence that adds to the captivating nature of Watership Down. Who can forget the chilling presence of General Woundwort? Perhaps the film should be rated 18, similar to other children’s movies that were once allowed to be terrifying and unsettling. The death of Bambi’s mother? Rated 18. The child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Rated 18. Kaa’s eerie eyes in The Jungle Book? Rated 18.
But of course, the BBFC isn’t just there to protect us from sex and violence etc. It is there to protect us from the past with all its inappropriate assumptions about what is and isn’t offensive. I like to imagine James Ferman, secretary of what was in those days called the British Board of Film Censors, saying to his colleagues over a good lunch: “Look, nature is red in tooth and claw and a children’s cartoon robustly showing this is perfectly all right. Cleared for newborns and above!”
Can Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and their Peckinpah-esque journey truly trigger young people? Or is the concept of differentiating between U and PG ratings considered silly to kids who have already learned how to bypass parental restrictions on their iPhones? The BBFC may realize that their efforts to limit access to Watership Down have not been effective, but there is something appealing about the attention on film history. It revitalizes this classic movie and sparks discussions, with its intense and captivating scenes.