Melon Farmers Original Version

The Woman in Black

Detailed BBFC cuts


Cutting Edge Episode 2: The Woman in Black...

Detailed BBFC cuts for a 12A rating. By Gavin Salkeld

Link Here 10th September 2013

Hammer Reincarnate

Two years after the successful revival of Hammer Films in 2007, writer Jane Goldman and director James Watkins were announced as the key members of the creative team behind a new cinematic retelling of Susan Hill's novel, The Woman in Black . Daniel Radcliffe was later announced as playing the lead role of Arthur Kipps. Principal photography got underway in September 2010, with the filming coming to an end in December. Post-production work continued through to June of 2011, and it was during this period that some issues began to arise with regards to the classification of the film by the BBFC.

Dark Visions: Cutting the Scares Down to 12A

The Woman in Black had happily secured a PG-13 rating in the US for thematic material and violence/disturbing images , where supernatural horror films are routinely passed as being suitable for teenagers. The UK distributors, Momentum Pictures, naturally wanted the equivalent rating in the UK, the 12A, to reach the widest possible audience -- no doubt in part due to the presence of Radcliffe as the leading man, who was popular with younger viewers from the Harry Potter series. Momentum submitted the film to the BBFC, but after a viewing by BBFC examiners a 15 rating was offered to the distributors. David Austin, the BBFC head of policy, explained the situation on BBC Radio 5 Live:

We felt that it was just too intense, too scary for 12A and we gave it a 15. That was disappointing to the distributor, having got a PG-13 in the United States, [so] they asked us to look at possible cuts. We had a look to see if we could cut the film for a 12A audience. We concluded that we could, so the film has had a number of tweaks made to it by us to secure the 12A. Two particular sequences are very intense, and these sequences were reduced in length by a few seconds because we felt they were too strong for 12-year-olds.

However, these changes -- widely reported on other websites -- are not the only edits the BBFC made to The Woman in Black. As the BBFC website notes:

In addition to the 6 seconds of visual cuts, substitutions were also made by darkening some shots and by reducing the sound levels on others.

These additional changes were mentioned by David Austin in his Radio 5 interview:

There are some moments where faces will suddenly appear at a window. Sequences like that [were] toned down, Shots are darkened, so that the impact of the shots is reduced. We [also] asked the company to tone down some of the sharper sounds during jump moments. The film makes very effective use of sound and that really added to the intensity and the scariness of the jump moments.

Hardcore horror fans may well have felt disappointed at these revelations, but as Austin noted:

It is still a scary film but not quite as intense as it had been when we originally saw it.

Indeed before the film's release, Daniel Radcliffe told BBC Radio 2:

If your child is under 12, I would think long and hard about taking them. It's a scary movie and psychologically scary and it's very, very dark. I know people are kind of used to me saying that with Potter, but I really mean it this time. It's very scary.

Ghostly Censor: The BBFC in the Digital Age

The Woman in Black was being produced at a time when the BBFC were beginning to get involved with a new form of digital censorship . With more and more editing techniques becoming available to filmmakers, the BBFC were able to suggest changes to a film whereby the image could be manipulated digitally without any actual footage having to be excised. Gone are the days when, for example, entire shots would have to be reprinted and optically darkened to hide offending details, an expensive and time-consuming process. It was possible to only subtly alter part of the image, without any loss of image quality. These changes could also be done in real time, with the BBFC examiners sitting in on a film's editing sessions and getting the changes exactly as they needed them, without having to deal with possible resubmissions by the distributors. In an interview with The Telegraph, senior BBFC examiner Craig Lapper spoke about the new ways filmmakers could alter a film to achieve a certain rating:

When we make cuts, people think in terms of 'snip-snip', but these days, with digital, there are so many other ways you can make a film more acceptable. You can suggest soundtrack changes, colour darkening, putting shadows in to obscure the more gory elements of a scene.

Indeed many of these techniques would form the basis of the majority of the changes made to The Woman in Black for UK audiences.

The Ghastly Details: BBFC Cuts

In this article, we'll be taking a closer look at the differences between the uncut US version and the edited UK version of The Woman in Black, including some cuts that have not yet been noted elsewhere. All timecodes refer to the US DVD.

Cut Scenes: Jump Cut 1

The first edit made by the BBFC is a subtle one, concerning an alteration of the soundtrack. As Arthur walks back toward Eel Marsh House after being in the graveyard, he stops to look up at an upper floor window in a medium shot. We have a cut to the ghost of the Woman in Black (Jennet), standing in the window, her hand pressed against the glass. She then retreats and pulls her hand away

In the US version, a brief string sustain in the musical score rises in volume as we see Arthur looking up at the house. On the cut to the window, there is a sudden loud 'sting ' in the music that accompanies the shock appearance of the Woman in Black. This musical sting tails off into a wailing effect. On the UK version, there is no suspenseful string build up and the loud sting has a slightly different instrumentation. It's also been reduced in volume to about half that of the original version on the US DVD, and there is no 'wail ' at the end. Furthermore, the music has been shifted so that it now accompanies Jennet's hand being removed from the glass, and not on the immediate cut to her standing at the window, lessening the jump moment of her appearance.


Cut Scenes: Jump Cut 2

Arthur then heads into the house and goes to the same window on the upper floor. After he peers outside, the Woman in Black's face suddenly appears behind him. In the US version, this is accompanied by another sudden and loud musical 'sting' after a few seconds of near silence. In the UK version, a slightly different sting is used. Not only is it about half of the volume of that used on the US version, but there is a slight build up to the effect, so that the 'boom' of the music is not as intense.


Cut Scenes: Thunderous Silence

At around 59 minutes, Arthur goes outside during a storm and sees the partially silhouetted ghosts of children standing in the rain. There is heavy lightning and thunder.

Towards the end of the sequence in the US version, there is a loud crack of thunder as a flash of lightning briefly illuminates the pale complexion of a young and bloody girl.

Arthur runs inside as the music builds in intensity, and a final thunder crack resounds as he slams the door shut. In the UK version, some of the louder thunder sound effects have been removed. There is no thunder heard as the ghostly girl is lit up by the lightning, and the second clap of thunder has been omitted entirely from the soundtrack as Arthur races to lock himself in the house.



Cut Scenes: Less Suspense

A moment or two later, Arthur spots muddy footprints in the house and heads upstairs to the nursery. Startled by moving shadows, he darts his eyes up to the ceiling and sees the Woman in Black standing on a rocking chair with a noose around her neck. She turns towards Arthur and we get a look at her ghostly face, before we cut to Arthur stumbling backwards in fright.

The Woman in Black then drops from the ceiling in a high-angled shot, breaking her neck in the process. The UK version plays slightly differently, removing entirely the shot of the Woman in Black standing on the chair and turning to face Arthur. It simply cuts from Arthur looking up directly to the high shot of the Woman in Black dropping from the noose. After she reaches the end of the rope, about seven frames (almost a quarter of a second) have also been cut, showing her pale exposed face as her head lolls backwards after the crack of her neck.



Cut Scenes: Stifled Scream

Having been startled by what he has just seen, Arthur scrambles to pick up his now extinguished candle and light a match. As he does so, the ghost of Jennet's dead son Nate, mouth agape and covered in mud, suddenly appears and screams at Arthur in the darkness. This screech is intact in the UK version, although it has had its volume reduced by about 50% in comparison to the US version.


Cut Scenes: No Spark

Later on, about 65 minutes in, Arthur runs into Mr. Jerome's house to rescue his daughter, Lucy. Holding an oil lamp amongst the roaring fires in the basement of the building, Lucy drops it at her feet and sets fire to herself. In the US version, we then have a shot of her engulfed in flames as she walks slowly towards Arthur, before cutting to a shot of Arthur as he recoils in shock, his hand covering his mouth. The UK version omits both these shots.



Cut Scenes: Losing Face 1

Following Arthur and Sam's retrieval of Nate's body from the mud, Nate is seen lying on a bed around 78 minutes into the film. In the US version, Nate's partially decayed face is lit by nearby candlelight in six separate shots as Arthur walks towards the bed and places his old birthday cards around the body. In the UK version, each shot of Nate has been darkened with an artificial shadow that just falls across his face, resulting in the decomposition of his face being almost impossible to discern.



Uncut US version (top) compared with cut UK version (bottom)

Cut Scenes: Losing Face 2

A similar alteration is made a few minutes later, when Sam sees the ghost of his dead son, Nicholas. After Sam follows Nicholas into a study and finds him gone, Sam turns to see Nicholas standing outside the room. The very brief shot of Nicholas turning towards his father, has been darkened so that he is barely visible in the UK version, concealing his pale and ghostly demeanor.



Uncut US version (top) compared with cut UK version (bottom)

Cut Scenes: Losing Face 3

After the door slams shut on Sam, he turns to look at the nearby window. In the US version, a young girl with blackened eyes and signs of head trauma is standing outside looking into the study, her mouth agape as she wails at Sam. As before, the UK version darkens the footage so that neither the bloody wound on the girl's head nor her pale, wailing face can be clearly registered. The sound is left intact, however.



Uncut US version (top) compared with cut UK version (bottom)

Cut Scenes: Losing Face 4

Sam is soon reunited with Arthur. After Arthur says, I think she's gone , Sam looks at Nate's body lying on the bed. The shot of Nate has again been darkened by artificial shadows to again hide the clear sight of his partially decayed face.



Uncut US version (top) compared with cut UK version (bottom)


Ghastly Moanings: Public Response

The BBFC passed The Woman in Black as a 12A with cuts for theatrical release on January 20th 2012, with their BBFC Insight stating:

Contains intense supernatural threat and horror.

The nature of the cuts was alluded to on their website at the time, although no specific details were given.

The Woman in Black was a huge financial success, earning almost $128,000,000 from its $15,000,000 budget. However, it would go on to become the BBFC's most complained-about film of 2012, generating over 130 complaints from viewers across the UK. A spokeswoman for BBFC said:

The main gist of the complaints was that people felt it was too scary for a 12A. People have a certain expectations about films with Daniel Radcliffe in them.

The Resurrection: The Uncut Version

In April of 2012, the BBFC passed the pre-cut theatrical version of the film for DVD and Blu-ray without further cuts. However, that same day they also passed the uncut US version with a 15 rating, with the BBFC Insight:

Contains strong supernatural threat and horror.

To date, this version of the film has yet to receive a UK release.


Cutting Edge

A video summary of the cuts made to The Woman in Black are examined in Gavin Salkeld's mini-series Cutting Edge, which was exclusively premiered here on Melon Farmers.


Viewers in the UK may wish to view this programme at this alternate link:

All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.

Gavin has written about film censorship for Melon Farmers since the year 2000. See more on the Cutting Edge Facebook Page.
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