BOOK REVIEW - Rockett, Kevin Irish Film Censorship ((2004) Dublin. Four Courts Press.
Unlike the UK, Ireland developed a cinema censorship certification system which officially treated adults as children. While films in England, Scotland and Wales were designated as suitable for grown ups or under twelves or fifteens on the whim of the British Board Of Film Censors, in Ireland, a film designated as unsuitable for wholesome family viewing was banned from viewing by anyone, period. This meant that thousands of films suitable for watching in the UK were banned entirely or cut severely for Irish audiences.
Cuts were often for flimsy moral excuses. All references to adulterous affairs were removed from films, along with scenes or even discussion or insinuation of extra-marital infidelity; musicals were banned in many cases for the suggestive dancing and skimpy costumes. All reference to abortion and contraception was cut, as was any reference to homosexuality.
Two biopics of Irish dramatist and poet Oscar Wilde were banned despite their references to his libel case over sodomy allegations being entirely factual. Irish Novelist James Joyce’s book Ulysses was filmed but unscreened in Ireland for its vulgar language. Eventually the stranglehold on Irish hearts and minds was crushed by a liberal common sense backlash. The banning of a film of classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird was quashed when it was recognised that its mention of rape was integral to the moral message in the film – it concerns the racist rooted false accusation of rape against a Black American citizen.
Slowly, the censors in Ireland adapted the UK approach. Some films still suffered though. English New wave films like Look Back In Anger, and Saturday Night & Sunday Morning were banned for their references to casual sex and backstreet abortion. European films were often seen as being far too explicit in their sexuality too, such as the entire early cinematic output of Brigitte Bardot. Even film poster art could suffer. A poster for Fathom, starring Raquel Welch was seen as too steamy for displaying the actress in a bikini, so Ireland saw simply empty space on the posters where Raquel Welch had stood before. Gradually, liberalism prevailed – a series of sex scandal rocked the Christian Right who had been behind the intense censorship regime, and as they fell, Irish Cinema came into its own with films like My Left Foot, and The Commitments gaining international acclaim. Rockett has done sterling research, having gained exclusive access (long denied to him and others) to the Irish Censor’s office archives, and it shows. An entertaining, often shocking look at how a moral minority can go too far in making our minds up for us. This is a true classic media study and an excellent look at how religion can harm the entertainment industry.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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