Euphegenia Doubtfire joins a long list of comic female characters played by men for narrative purposes. Other memorable cross-dressing film characters include Joe and Jerry who became Josephine and Daphne respectively in Some Like It Hot in 1959; Michael, who became Dorothy in Tootsie in 1982; and Brian and Charlie who became Sisters Euphenia and Inviolata respectively in Nuns On The Run in 1990. When Mrs Doubtfirewas released in 1993, another classic performance was born, with Robin Williams playing the lady of the title.
Critics were somewhat muted in their response to the film from the perspective of story-line, originality and length - but all agreed that Robin Williams’ performance was alone responsible for saving the film from failure. His manic delivery, his mastering of a whole range of accents and voices and his very believability as a woman made this one of his most compelling and admired performances. Showbiz rumour has it that many of Williams’ funniest lines were ad-libbed rather than scripted, and that this created a sharper and more hilarious comedy. Of course, such departures from a script can create a very different result to that intended by the writers or director. In this relatively simple tale of marital break-down, and a desperate desire by one partner to maintain contact with the children of that marriage, there was probably little in the original script likely to upset or challenge family audiences. But with Williams in the cast all bets were off with regard to the final product - and this was certainly the case with Mrs Doubtfire.
The film was based on Anne Fine's book for older children, 'Madame Doubtfire', which was first published in 1987, and became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The popularity of the book meant that the film was eagerly awaited by many UK families and children. However, when the film was submitted for its first classification in 1993 it was rated 12, which, in those days, barred entry for anyone under that age, whether accompanied by adults or not (the 12A category was only introduced in 2002).
The main reason for the 12 classification was a series of sex references which were considered to go some way beyond public expectations of PG - the category that the film’s distributors had actually requested. Discussions took place with the distributors about cuts to achieve PG, with the focus eventually concentrating on a single sequence.
The scene was set in a restaurant, where the Mrs Doubtfire character questions his ex-wife’s new boyfriend about his intentions towards her, specifically in relation to a gift he has bought for her. ".. A man gives a present like that he wants more than a piece of her heart...bit of a going-down payment, huh? You know dear, sink the sub? Hide the weasel? Park the porpoise? Bit of the old humpty dumpty? Little Jack Horny? The horizontal mambo? The bone dance, eh? Rumpleforeskin? Baloney bop? Bit of the old cunning linguistics? Hmm?...I hope you're up for a little competition...she's got a power tool in the bedroom, dear. It's her personal jackhammer. She could break a sidewalk with it. She uses it and the lights dim. It's like a prison movie. Amazed she hasn't chipped her teeth...I hope you bring the cocktail sauce. She's got crabs. And I don't mean Dungeness."
On this issue of sex references the BBFC’s Director, James Ferman, could not be persuaded - the distributor did not want to make the proposed cuts for PG and so eventually agreed to accept the 12 category. The film was therefore released at 12 in early 1994. In the following weeks the Board received a number of letters both from the general public and from individual cinemas questioning this decision. One of these, from a cinema in Scunthorpe that was representative of many such missives, referred to “turning away hundreds of tearful family groups.” The letter further informed the Board that the cinema had departed from its normal policy of support for the BBFC and had requested its local authority to watch the film with a view to granting a PG certificate. The PG was duly granted, with the leader of the viewing panel quoted as saying “We found the film humorous, entertaining, sentimental and wholesome family fun.”
Across the UK, 38 local authorities, covering 66 cinemas, granted a PG to Mrs Doubtfire, and the film’s distributors again requested that the BBFC reconsider its decision to grant the film a 12. In response, James Ferman reached a compromise, with two of the mooted cuts waived and just one remaining, covering the more explicit sex references in the restaurant scene.
This proposal was sent to the film’s director, Chris Columbus, in March 1994 for his approval. In April agreement was reached on the single cut and all 12 rated versions were withdrawn from cinemas and replaced by the cut PG version in May of that year. The film’s first submission on video followed in July of 1994, when it was passed PG with the same cuts.
Six years passed with no further action, until the video was again submitted in 2000 as a widescreen version, but this time with additional closed captions for the hard-of-hearing. Although the distributor made no specific category request, the Board took the view, after careful consideration, that the film could be passed uncut at PG. However, the distributor withdrew the work from its formal submission due to technical problems (it had not foreseen a change in category for the uncut version and had proceeded with the production of the work in its cut version.)
The work was next submitted in 2003 in its uncut version, again without a specific category request, and was passed uncut, in line with the decision made in 2000.
In November 2012 the uncut version of the film was again submitted, this time with a PG request. Judging the content of the film against the BBFC’s current Guidelines (updated since 2003), which stated that at PG there may be ‘mild sex references and innuendo only’, the Board considered that the public’s expectations at that category would be confounded by passing at PG the explicit sex references quoted above. Accordingly, the work was recommended at 12 and the distributor accepted this category.