The Woodsman follows a child molester as he attempts to rejoin society after some time in prison. This theme was one of the factors considered in classifying it 15, but it wasn’t the only issue discussed by examiners when they made their category recommendation.
It was submitted in 2005 and along with the theme examiners noted four other strong issues to considered: language, sex, sex references and violence.
The language, as often happens with more mature works, immediately required 15. There is some mild to moderate swearing, along with over 20 clear uses of 'f**k'. The latter can be contained at 15, but at 12A the BBFC Guidelines only permit 'infrequent' strong language. That level of strong language is described as a ‘category defining issue’.
The sex in The Woodsman was considered moderate, with limited detail. The Guidelines allow for sex to be 'implied' at 12A but more clearly portrayed at 15. The sex here occurs in a burgeoning, loving relationship and is important to the plot and character development. There are suggestions of nudity but the scenes are relatively short. If the sex scenes had included sight of the sexual abuse, with a similar level of detail, this could have raised the classification to 18.
Sex references in The Woodsman were strong and included references to paedophilia and sexual abuse, such as 'Have you ever seen a little girl sodomised in half?' and 'I molested little girls'.
The strength of the sex references and the abusive tone place them at 15 where the Guidelines allow 'strong references to sexual behaviour'. The frank discussion of sexual abuse was considered too strong to be placed at 12A, where the Guidelines say 'Sex references may reflect what is likely to be familiar to most adolescents but should not go beyond what is suitable for them'.
The violence was fairly limited in The Woodsman with one scene of moderate violence towards its conclusion. Examiners discussed this scene but noted that the detail is limited – there is no focus, say, on 'process detail, such as bullets tearing through flesh or heavy blood loss.
The theme, however, was probably the most interesting talking point when classifying this film. Examiners considered, for example, whether there would be room for acceptability of this theme at 12A. Several precedents for discussion of child sexual abuse exist, including very, very careful treatment of the ideas at PG in video works such as Press Gang and references to child abuse stories in video works at 12 such as Without A Trace and Quantum Leap. In such examples, however the references are far less detailed, and are oblique.
With The Woodsman the strong presentation of the theme, which many people would find difficult to accept at 12A, prompted examiners to decide on a 15 recommendation. Given the seriousness of the theme and treatment, and the potential for the material to upset or disturb audiences examiners, the examiners also ensured that the theme was clearly highlighted in the BBFCinsight, which reads 'Contains strong language and theme of child sexual abuse'.