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Controversial Classics

A collection of the bold and the banned; causes célèbre and succès de scandale to incite, provoke and arouse.

Any history of cinematic controversy in the UK is necessarily a history of our country’s censorship and the evolving vagaries of the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification).

Most of these films have fallen foul of the censors at some point, but thankfully they’re now all restored to their once incendiary glories.

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Controversial Classics
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View Immoral Tales
Immoral Tales
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Immoral Tales 1974 18

Walerian Borowczyk presents four stories of sexual taboos throughout the ages, in his highly controversial classic of 1970s erotic cinema.

103 mins France Director. Walerian Borowczyk

Walerian Borowczyk's erotic anthology caused a scandal when first shown in the UK as a work in progress at the 1973 London Film Festival.

A year later, the official release was rejected outright by the BBFC, although the GLC granted an X-rating to allow screenings for lucky Londoners.

View Amores perros
Amores perros

Amores perros 2000 18

Alejandro González Iñárritu's (Birdman, The Revenant) gripping debut feature is a savagely brilliant triptych around the theme of animalistic desires.

155 mins Mexico Director. Alejandro González Iñárritu

Alejandro González Iñárritu's powerful canine-themed triptych caught the attentions of the BBFC for its brutal dog-fighting scenes.

But once the director provided evidence that no dogs were harmed and he'd achieved the effect through canny editing, the film was released uncut.

View Theorem
Theorem

Theorem 1968 15

Pasolini’s classic about a handsome, enigmatic stranger (Terence Stamp) who arrives at a bourgeois household and seduces an entire family.

94 mins Italy Director. Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pasolini's film about an enigmatic stranger who seduces an entire family was awarded a top prize at the Venice Film Festival...

... Only for the Vatican to object and denounce the film for its indecency.

View Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom
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Peeping Tom 1960 15

Michael Powell’s dark, disturbing, once controversial tale of a shy camera technician who films women as he kills them is now rightly deemed a classic

101 mins United Kingdom Director. Michael Powell

Revered director Michael Powell all but destroyed his career with this disturbing story of man obsessed with filming his murders.

Upon release, the entire critical establishment savaged the film as an abhorrence. It would take decades before its reappraisal as a masterpiece.

View The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp 1943 U

Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece follows the rise and fall of a career soldier, from dashing and brave young officer in the Boer War to a pompous and old-fashioned Colonel by the time of World War Two.

163 mins United Kingdom Director. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Before that Powell's earlier classic had upset the British establishment for its sympathetic portrayal of a German officer.

Recut for international audiences, Powell and Emeric Pressburger's original vision was out of circulation until its 1983 restoration.

View The Beyond
The Beyond
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The Beyond 1981 18

Lucio Fulci's Italian zombie-horror classic about a New Orleans hotel built upon one of the seven gateways to Hell.

Italy Director. Lucio Fulci

View City of the Living Dead
City of the Living Dead
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City of the Living Dead 1980 18

Lucio Fulci’s sensationally gory zombie horror finds undead hordes overtaking a sleepy New England town, with only a reporter and a local psychic to stop them.

92 mins Italy Director. Lucio Fulci

Lucio Fulci’s insanely gory '80s films caused British censors frequent alarm. The Beyond was briefly an official ‘video nasty’ while City was filleted for home viewing.

View Of Good Report
Of Good Report
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Of Good Report 2013

Disturbing but deeply stylish South African drama about a teacher who becomes obsessed with an under-age pupil in his class, with tragic consequences.

100 mins South Africa Director. Jahmil Xolani Thandikhaya Qubeka

Less well known in the UK, this dark noir about a teacher's obsessive relationship with his pupil caused a scandal in its native South Africa.

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka's film was briefly refused a certificate by South African censors, before reason prevailed and its distribution was approved.

View More
More

More 1969 18

The first feature by Barbet Schroeder (Maîtresse, The Valley), More created a sensation when it was released in 1969, quickly becoming a cult classic and famed for its Pink Floyd soundtrack.

118 mins Luxembourg Director. Barbet Schroeder

Barbet Schroeder's tale of hedonism on the isle of Ibiza has long caused controversy for its frank depiction of drug-taking.

Ingredients from a psychoactive cocktail were removed from the dialogue, and the BBFC cut out a heroin-injection scene as recently as 2003.

View L'Age D'Or
L'Age D'Or

L'Age D'Or 1930 15

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali unite for this masterpiece of cinematic surrealism remains as brilliantly witty and shocking as ever, more than 80 years on.

63 mins France Director. Luis Buñuel

Buñuel and Dalí's scandalous attack on religion and bourgeois society was deemed "the most repulsive corruption of our age" by Spanish authorities.

The film didn't receive its US premiere until 49 years after it was first released in France.

View The Mask of Satan
The Mask of Satan
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The Mask of Satan 1960 15

Italian horror classic from acclaimed Italian horror auteur Mario Bava, about a beautiful witch Asa (Barbara Steele) who rises from her grave to take revenge upon her enemies.

Italy Director. Mario Bava

Mario Bava’s gorgeously styled and highly influential gothic horror was banned outright by British censors for eight years.

In its absence it accrued a wave of esteemed admirers such as critic Raymond Durgnat, who protested at the ban's absurdity.

View Battleship Potemkin
Battleship Potemkin
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Battleship Potemkin 1925 PG

A fixture in the critical canon almost since its premiere, Eisenstein’s film about a 1905 naval mutiny was revolutionary in both form and content.

68 mins USSR Director. Sergei M. Eisenstein

Eisenstein's incendiary masterpiece was banned in Britain until 1954 - and even then rated 'X' until 1978.

It still effected a profound influence on British documentary filmmakers through its screenings at film societies.

View Bad Timing
Bad Timing
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Bad Timing 1980 18

Nic Roeg's complex, elusive cult classic is a Vienna-set tale of all consuming passion, starring Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell and Harvey Keitel.

122 mins Director. Nicolas Roeg

Nicolas Roeg's complex examination of obsession was branded "a sick film made by sick people for sick people" by its own distributor, Rank Organisation.

In America the film received the dreaded 'X' certificate, and it remained unavailable on home video until 2005.

View The Black Panther
The Black Panther
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The Black Panther 1977 18

Gripping crime drama charts the killing spree which Donald Neilson, aka the Black Panther, perpetrated across England during the mid-70s.

98 mins United Kingdom Director. Ian Merrick

Ian Merrick's meticulous account of serial killer Donald Neilson was chastised for being insensitively rushed into cinemas just 3 years after his mid-1970s crime spree.

"I've seen the film and I think its sick," Sue Lawley announced on BBC's Tonight show, when it later transpired she hadn't. Few did see it before BFI's 2012 re-release.

View Captured
Captured
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Captured 1959 15

Previously only shown to a restricted audience of top military brass from the Ministry of Defence, Captured is a stunning Prisoner of War drama.

64 mins United Kingdom Director. John Krish

John Krish's instructional docudrama aimed to prepare soldiers for the possibility of interrogation.

Its stark depiction of brainwashing and torture led the MOD to classify the film as 'restricted' until 2004.

View Visions of Ecstasy
Visions of Ecstasy

Visions of Ecstasy 1989 18

Nigel Wingrove's experimental depiction of the erotic imaginings of the 16th Century Carmelite nun remains the only film ever to banned under Britain's blasphemy laws.

18 mins United Kingdom Director. Nigel Wingrove

Nigel Wingrove’s experimental short depicting a nun’s erotic fantasies is the only film ever to be banned in the UK on grounds of blasphemy.

The director appealed to the European courts – and lost. But a repeal of the law led to the film's re-certification in 2012, after 23 years.

View Un Chien Andalou
Un Chien Andalou

Un Chien Andalou 1928 15

A scabrous study of desire, the subconscious and anti-clericalism - Buñuel and Dalí’s provocative first film is a classic of Surrealist cinema.

17 mins France Director. Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí aimed to inflame bourgeois complacency but were disappointed when the film proved popular.

They duly geared up for all-out assault with their follow-up L'Age D'or (see above), but the earlier film remains a shocking visual experience even today.

View Maitresse
Maitresse

Maitresse 1976 18

Gerard Depardieu plays the young innocent who falls for the mysterious maitresse Ariane (Bulle Ogier), a leather clad dominatrix, in Barbet Schroeder’s controversial film.

112 mins France Director. Barbet Schroeder

Rated 'X' in the US but banned outright in the UK, Barbet Schroeder's story of a professional dominatrix outraged Anglo-Saxon sensibilities.

The BBFC finally relented and granted the film an 18 certificate in 2003.

View Skinflicker
Skinflicker

Skinflicker 1972

Tony Bicât’s radical, found-footage record of a revolutionary act, in which three dissidents kidnap a cabinet and torture a cabinet minister.

44 mins United Kingdom Director. Tony Bicât

Styled as a secret government training film, Tony Bicât's film shows the kidnap and assassination of a cabinet minister.

Bicât's work was arguably too experimental for the film to become a cause célèbre, but the subject matter ensured its underground notoriety.

View Trans-Europ-Express
Trans-Europ-Express
HD

Trans-Europ-Express 1966 15

This stylish, cult 1966 erotic thriller stars French New Wave icons Jean-Louis Trintigant and Marie-France Pisier.

105 mins France Director. Alain Robbe-Grillet

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s erotic meta-thriller was banned outright by the BBFC in 1967 for its scenes of sexual sadism and bondage, despite its clear status as an art film.

In more recent, enlightened times it was re-classified uncut; as nothing more than a lowly 15-certificate.

View The Birth of a Nation
The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation 1915 15

D W Griffith's highly controversial, yet extremely significant American silent epic about the American Civil War and its aftermath.

191 mins USA Director. D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith’s silent cinema classic was controversial upon release (riots followed some screenings) and has only gained in notoriety since.

Its inherent racism and celebration of the Ku Klux Klan are deeply shocking today. But while its reputation has eroded this is still a landmark in the development of cinematic technique.

View Within Our Gates
Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates 1920 12

Oscar Micheaux’s startling silent classic – the earliest surviving feature from an African-American director – presents a fascinating black counterpoint to Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

73 mins USA Director. Oscar Micheaux

The antithesis of Birth of a Nation, Oscar Micheaux's 'race' film was intended for black audiences, and it detailed shocking acts of white violence.

US censors duly refused the film a certificate, fearing riots in the larger cities, and for decades it was circulated in various compromised cuts.

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