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Dead Poets Society (1989)

Dead Poets Society came to the BBFC for classification in July 1989 and was classified PG. The film, starring Robin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014) was a box office hit and won its writer, Tom Schulman, an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Tags: archive, case study, bbfc, drama

The film tells the story of an English teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), who inspires his pupils through his teaching of poetry, encouraging them to look at life in a different way. When his students discover their teacher was previously a student at the same school and part of an unofficial club called ‘The Dead Poets Society’, they reinstate the club, using it to read famous poetry and their own work. But their liberation comes at a cost and drives one student to take his own life. In the scene the boy takes a gun from his father's desk, and then a puff of smoke is seen rising from behind the desk, and his hand and the pistol lying on the floor. The scene is implied rather than shown in detail and is neither glamorised nor endorsed as an appropriate solution to the boy's problems.

One Examiner report for Dead Poets Society, available here, describes the emotional impact of the film on the Examiners present at its classification. It highlights the suicide in the film, and some very brief nudity, as the key classification issues taking the film to PG. It’s important to note that in 1989, the 12 certificate had not yet been introduced for theatrical or video works, and the choice for the BBFC was between a PG or a 15 rating. 

Dead Poets Society was most recently classified in 1999 and retained its PG certificate for the mild violence of the suicide scene and for mild nudity, which is seen in a brief image of a topless woman in a magazine. The film also contains some mild language, with occasional uses of 'shit' and 'bullshit'.

Robin Williams was nominated for an Academy Award for the role of inspirational teacher John Keating. He went on to win Golden Globe Awards for The Fisher King (1991) and Mrs Doubtfire (1993); and an Academy Award for his role in Good Will Hunting (1997).

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