Willow first came to the BBFC for classification in May 1988. Here we summarise, and take a closer look, at the extensive file for this PG film.
When Willow arrived at the BBFC, it generated much excitement for its fairy tale story, and also for its special effects. The film follows the story of a young dwarf, Willow, who must protect a special baby, Ellora, from the evil Queen Bavmorda, who has been told the baby will grow up to destroy her. Willow is noted by Examiners as being virtually a U film, until the opening of reel 5 when the impressive special effects come into play and the film moves from fairy tale, closer to the realms of horror and darker fantasy drama. The BBFC suggested at least four reductions were suggested to secure the PG requested by the distributor. The reductions aimed to address scenes of violence and intense threat in the film, including a scene of dogs attacking a midwife; a troll turning into a two headed dragon; bloody fights; and characters being turned into pigs by Queen Bavmorda. The BBFC also advised that the soundtrack be softened to reduce the intensity of particular scenes.
Once the distributors had made these cuts to the film, the BBFC arranged for a test screening of Willow with children aged 7-12 and their parents. Prior to the introduction of regular public consultation to ensure age ratings reflect broad public acceptability, the BBFC occasionally used test screenings to test borderline films on real audiences. Test screenings involved a questionnaire to capture feedback from the audience and helped the BBFC decide whether a film could be passed at a particular category and what issues, if any, were most problematic to the audience.
In a letter from BBFC Director James Ferman to the distributor of the film, he describes the cut version of the film shown at the test screening as being well received by the audience, though he raises reductions to the intense colouring of scenes in the film as being below his expectations and that some children were still frightened by the intensity of blood streaks on the face of one character, Raziel, after he battles Queen Bavmorda. James Ferman suggests further reductions might be made to the grading, particularly in this scene. The troll turning into a two headed dragon did not seem to disturb any younger members of the audience, however the early scene where the dogs attack and appear to kill the midwife did cause upset, potentially because none of the reassuring elements of the film, including Willow and his family, are established at this point. James Ferman asked for this scene to close before the dogs attack the midwife, and that this reduction, along with reducing the redness of the blood streaks on Raziel's face, would secure the desired PG rating for the film.
The film was passed PG with cuts in November 1988. A pre-cut version of the video was also submitted in 1989, and passed PG with Examiners noting the reduced impact of viewing the work on the small screen and without the surround sound of the cinema to emphasise the sometimes shocking sound effects, although the fight scene between Raziel and Queen Bavmorda was still considered at the very top end of PG. Willow was most recently classified PG without cuts on video in 2002, with BBFCinsight 'Contains mild language, sex references and fantasy violence'.