Lord of the Flies

To mark sixty years since Lord of the Flies was first published, we look at the files for the two film adaptations of this famous book.

Lord of the Flies, by Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding, was first published 60 years ago, in September 1954. But the first film adaptation of the book did not arrive at the BBFC until 1964.

Lord of the Flies (1963), directed by Peter Brook, was classified X (suitable only for those aged 16 and over) for language and nudity as well as the final scenes in the film, which were considered too strong and alarming for children. Cuts for an A certificate were offered to the company, but these were refused on the grounds that they would spoil the film and it was therefore passed X.

The restrictive X certificate sparked a number of letters from teachers dismayed that their pupils under the age of 16 and studying the text could not see the film. Local councils in Caernarvon, North Wales and Southend-On-Sea, ultimately decided to over-rule the BBFC X classification in order to hold special screenings of the film for local schoolchildren, while BBFC Secretary John Trevelyan, also advised school teachers who had written to the BBFC, that the film could be shown to under-16s studying the text, if the screenings were supervised.

In 1970 the BBFC introduced the new AA rating, meaning anyone aged 14 or over could see the film. Rights holders of some films classified X, were invited to apply for an AA rating, but the company behind Lord of the Flies declined. Following a letter to the BBFC from an MP, John Trevelyan once again asked whether the company might accept an AA for Lord of the Flies, and this time his request was met and the film was “re-graded” AA.

Lord of the Flies was submitted by a new distributor on video in 1990. The Examiner notes describe the violence as “very muted” and the language at the “bloody level”, both of which could be contained at PG. The Examiner doubts that most 6-9-year-olds would have any interest in the film, but that it should be within the capability of 10 – 12-year-olds.  This is in stark contrast to the views of Examiners watching the film in 1964, which likely reflects changes in public acceptability, but also the widespread familiarity of the story as a now-famed text.

However, it was around a similar time that a re-make of the film was also submitted for classification. In 1989 Lord of the Flies, directed by Harry Hook and starring Balthazar Getty, was submitted to the BBFC. The distributor of the film requested a PG certificate, but immediately four uses of strong language in the film made this lower category impossible and pushed the film to a 15 classification. Examiners however did consider whether the film could be contained at the new 12 certificate, introduced for film in 1989.

The Examiner report here details the debate for and against a 12 classification, including whether the known quantity aspect of the text amongst school children of 14 to 16, made the film more acceptable at the 12 rating. Ultimately, Lord of the Flies (1989) was passed 15 for its four uses of strong language and the horror filmic treatment of the already dystopian and dark text.

The test screening suggested by this Examiner report was never fulfilled, chiefly because the UK distributor made it clear they were not willing to consider reducing the film's strong language.