IT is 40 years since Bournemouth councillors considered whether they should ban the blockbusting horror film The Exorcist.

It is one of a succession of films to provoke censorship debates over the years, from A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango In Paris to the explicit horror film A Serbian Film in the 21st century.

Here are some of the films that provoked public outrage – and sometimes led local councillors to take trips to the cinema to see whether they should overturn the national censors’ decisions.

What movies do you remember being especially controversial? Please leave your comments below.

The Exorcist

“No date has yet been fixed for the showing in Bournemouth of the black magic film, The Exorcist,” reported the Daily Echo on May 6 1974.

“Thirteen members of Bournemouth’s environmental services committee had a private showing of the film on Saturday and decided that ABC Film Centre could go ahead with plans to show the film.”

More than 600 people had objected to the film being shown – among them the rural dean of Bournemouth and staff and pupils at Bournemouth School for Girls.

On May 25, with the film about to open, the Echo reported that Bournemouth Council of Churches would be distributing “comfort cards” at ABC cinemas in Bournemouth and Boscombe.

“Around 20 different phone numbers are being used which distressed or disturbed people can ring for help and comfort,” we reported.

The cards read: “The Exorcist. If, after seeing this film, you feel you would like to talk to somebody, ring…”

Bournemouth Echo:

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

The release of Monty Python’s comedy, in which a hapless man is mistaken for Jesus Christ, caused a national outcry in 1979-80.

The British Board of Film Censors (BBFC; now the British Board of Film Classification) had passed it with an AA certificate, meaning no-one under 14 could see it, but some campaigners wanted it banned as blasphemous.

Bournemouth council’s environmental services committee went to see the film at the ABC in February 1980. They decided to change its certificate to X, for over-18s only.

The decision killed the film in the town, because the distributor had refused to show it in areas where the AA rating did not apply.

Life of Brian was shown with an AA certificate at Poole Arts Centre, after a debate among councillors and a 3,000 signature petition in favour of screening it.

Bournemouth Echo:

In 1980 Alan Coleman of Poole collected 3,000 signatures in favour of the film 'Life of Brian'. 

The Last Temptation of Christ

Bournemouth councillors saw Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film before deciding whether it should be banned.

The movie, in which Willem Dafoe as Jesus on the cross was seen fantasising about making love with Mary Magdalene, came to Bournemouth after protests nationwide.

After seeing it at the Cannon cinema (now the ABC), the licensing committee voted 7-5 in favour of showing it.

But committee chairman Cllr Rob Wotton dissented, saying: “I found the film offensive and blasphemous. I am sure a lot of Christian people who come to see the film will be upset.”

But Cllr Brian Lassman said the film was “long and boring” but not blasphemous and it would be “hypocritical” to ban it.

The Cannon’s manager, Peter Allbut, said that as a Christian, he found it moving. “There is nothing in that film that would shake a Christian’s faith,” he said.

Bournemouth Echo:

Echo ad from 1988 for the Martin Scorsese film


David Cronenberg’s controversial movie is the last film, to date, to be passed by the BBFC but banned in Bournemouth.

It was based on JG Ballard’s novel about characters who are sexually aroused by car accidents.

Poole councillors viewed it in May 1997 before deciding it could be shown in the town.

But when the five members of Bournemouth’s licensing committee saw it at the ABC that July, they banned it.

Chairman Jill Abott said: “It was an unpleasant film, about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other.

“The town of Bournemouth is renowned for its beauty, cleanliness and health – this was an ugly film, and not the sort of thing visitors or residents would want to see.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Sh****d Me

It wasn’t the film so much as the poster that caused controversy in the summer of 1999.

The slightly rude word in the title of Mike Myers’ comedy was painted out by a mystery censor when it was put on a hoarding in Barrack Road, Christchurch.

In Bournemouth, the planning committee agreed to write to the owner of an advertising hoarding at the St Paul’s roundabout to express its disapproval, while one councillor said he had reported the issue to the police.

The Advertising Standards Authority had received 40 complaints but said it would not be taking action.

Bournemouth Echo:



Catherine Breillat’s explicit 1999 film about a woman exploring her sexuality never quite made it to Bournemouth.

Nonetheless, the Daily Mail’s outcry over the film prompted Bournemouth councillors to let the local cinemas know that if they decided to show it, the council would want to see it first.

The resulting outcry might have boosted the movie’s box office potential, but in the event, neither of the Westover Road cinemas proposed screening it.

The Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson’s film about the last days of Jesus sparked an outcry in 2004, with many of its critics claiming the film blamed the Jewish people for the death of Christ.

The town’s reform Rabbi of the time, David Soetendorp, said he wanted nothing to do with the movie, while Orthodox Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld told the Echo: “We thought we’d overcome the God-killing thing.”

Town centre rector Canon Jim Richardson said: “We’re all to blame for the death of Christ and it’s wrong to pick on one group.”

Despite the outcry, the film was shown without threat of a ban at Bournemouth’s ABC.

Bournemouth Echo: The Passion of The Christ (Directed by Mel Gibson)

A Serbian Film

A row broke out in October 2010 when the organisers of the British Horror Festival, at Bournemouth’s Pier Theatre, planned to show an uncut version of this controversial movie.

The film, about a porn star forced into taking part in a film including child rape and necrophilia, was described by its director as an attack on the Serbian government.

The British Board of Film Classification had demanded almost four minutes of cuts before it could be given an 18 certificate.

There was a hearing of the licensing board during which the vice-chairman admitted downloading the uncut film online in order to judge for himself. Councillors decided only a BBFC-approved version could be shown, but the organisers withdrew the movie.

The council also decided licensing officers would have to look at any unrated films submitted for festivals in future, including low-budget and student movies.

Bournemouth Echo: