Penny Woolcock’s three acclaimed films - Tina Goes Shopping (1999), Tina Takes a Break (2001) and Mischief Night (2006) – deal with real-life experiences surrounding race, culture and class within the marginal communities of Leeds. By taking non-professional actors and placing them within fictional, yet realistic, narratives, Woolcock gained both critical acclaim and also notoriety. In 1 Day (2009), she explores the controversial topic of gang-related gun crime within inner-city Birmingham’s Afro-Caribbean community, by unconventionally using the generic musical motifs of ‘grime’. The narrative surrounds a day in the life of gang member Flash as he receives a call from gang leader Angel, who's just been released from prison, telling him he's coming for the £500,000 he left with him for safekeeping. Panicking because he doesn't have the full amount, Flash soon realises he has to cut a deal with rival member, Evil. What follows is a high octane mix of bling, guns, drugs and aggressive musical numbers.
The film was submitted to the BBFC for classification in August 2009 without a category request. Within the first few minutes of screen time the examiners viewing the work established that 1 Day was at least a 15 certificate, with numerous uses of strong language (‘f**k’) in the opening sequence. Overall the film contains over 100 uses of strong language in both the dialogue and accompanying hip-hop lyrics, proving to be one of the classification defining issues. Other mild and moderate language is also used – for example 'prick', 'slut', 'dickhead' and ‘bitch – as well as frequent use of the term ‘n****r’ between the film’s black gang members. The BBFC’s 15 Guidelines at the time stated that ‘there may be frequent use of strong language’ and that ‘the work as a whole must not endorse discriminatory behaviour’.
The examiners also noted that there was a realistic level of moderate gun threat threaded throughout the film, culminating in several scenes of strong violence. One of the scenes features Flash being attacked by two rival gun-wielding gang members - one of whom he manages to stab in the leg and then crush his leg by driving over it. This is followed by intense gun-fire. The violence is, however, delivered in an impressionistic manner without any undue dwelling on the infliction of pain or injury, with its bloody consequences limited to the aftermath of the two confrontations and not constituting anything like the strongest gory images – both factors being strong 15 category indicators.
The third classification issue of drugs was a relatively minor one. Examiners noted that the film contains infrequent moments of soft drug use, and one scene featuring the main protagonist 'cooking up' crack cocaine; however, this drug preparation scene lacks sufficient instructional detail to warrant taking the film into the 18 category.
The BBFC passed 1 Day at 15 uncut, with the accompanying BBFC content advice stating ‘Contains strong language and violence’.
However, when the film was released in the UK in November 2009, local police took umbrage at the film’s portrayal of violence in Birmingham, prompting the West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable, Suzette Davenport, to accuse Woolcock of "glamorising violence". She said: "My starting-point is that it's fiction, but I think you do see some glamorisation of gang-related behaviour. The main character walks off with £100,000, leaving behind carnage of dead bodies. It's like a shoot-out at the OK Corral."
Davenport’s comments provoked cinema chains Odeon and Cineworld to take the decision not to screen the film in local Birmingham cinemas, but to allow a nationwide release across the rest of the UK. The Vue cinema chain originally declined to show the film, but changed their mind after a consultation process. Two other smaller independent cinemas in Birmingham agreed to screen the film.
The reception to this rather unusual exhibitor’s local ban was mixed; the West Midlands Police Force claimed that they did not put pressure on the cinema chains to implement a ban, although they did contact the BBFC to ask for a justification of the 15 recommendation. Occasionally, local authorities will exercise their power to overturn a BBFC decision although this was not the case with 1 Day. A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: "It is within the power of the local authority to prevent a film being screened. We have not decided to in this case as there has been no formal request to ban it from police. It would be very unusual for us to act, beyond it having a certificate restricting the age groups that can see it."
Local press reaction to the ban was also diverse, with the Birmingham Mail claiming that the ban was “probably just as well. Who would readily want to trade customer safety for such an underwhelming drama?”. However, the Birmingham Post saw the ban as “a missed opportunity for the city to congratulate its own on the making of the film, disturbing viewing though it may be. It is also a dangerous precedent.”