Brokeback Mountain was a critically acclaimed (winning the Golden Lion in Venice) and widely anticipated film release in 2005. It teamed up an Oscar winning filmmaker, Ang Lee, with a highly regarded author, E Annie Proulx, and starred two young actors (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) tipped for huge success.
The film follows the relationship between two ranch hands who fall in love whilst watching sheep in the Wyoming Mountains. It was rated R in the US for 'sexuality, nudity, language and some violence' and was submitted for UK classification in the autumn 2005 with a 15 request.
Brokeback Mountain is widely studied in the UK and BBFC examiners are sometimes asked about how or whether the gay love scenes and homosexual lead characters affected the classification.
The key issues for classification were some moderate to strong sex scenes, strong language, brief violence and descriptions of violence and nudity.
The language required a 15 classification under BBFC Guidelines which do not allow for ‘frequent strong language’ below this category. The violence included brief sight of a crime scene shown to illustrate a painful story from one of the characters’ past – in which he recounts seeing the bloodied body of a man whose penis was cut off by his neighbours when they found out he was gay. A brutal punch-up is also shown (although it lacks impact detail), as are establishing images of Jack's bloody face after his accident. Neither scene exceeded the 15 guidelines, which allow for ‘strong violence’.
The sex scenes were carefully considered by the BBFC – the strongest sex scene being one between Ennis (played by Heath Ledger) and his wife. In it he is aggressive and rolls her over penetrating her from behind with some force as she cries out. Details such as movement and the length of the scene meant it could not have been contained at 12A where sexual activity may only be ‘implied’. Similarly the film includes a brief sex scene between Ennis and Jack.
The BBFC has passed gay kissing and gay relationships at all categories. The BBFC Guidelines treat heterosexual activity and homosexuality equally, just as the law in the UK demands, stating:
The portrayal of human sexual activity can range from kissing and references to ‘making love’ to detail of real sex. This is reflected in the classification system, in which progressively stronger portrayal is allowed as the categories rise. The BBFC Guidelines apply the same standards to homosexual as to heterosexual activity. It would be illegal under the Human Rights Act 1998 for the BBFC to discriminate between depictions of heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
The BBFC received a single letter of complaint from a cinema goer who was surprised at the film’s 15 rating, as it contained ‘gay sex’ and ‘extreme language’.
The BBFCinsight for the film read ‘Contains strong language, moderate sex and violence’.