Britain in the 1980’s continues to be fertile ground for filmmakers.
And for obvious reason. Tethering on the edge of chaos, it was the sight of so many social changes that still impact on daily life in 2021.
Set during the video nasties era, Censor is the story of Enid Baines. Working for the British Board of Film Classification, she takes on the job of viewing films with the eye of a censor with diligence and a stiff upper lip. Not a universally popular figure in the BBFC - the phrase ‘Little Miss Perfect’ is mentioned a few times - her world begins to rupture professionally and personally. (It is alleged by the tabloids that a vicious murderer was inspired by a film passed by her). Her parents have her missing sister declared dead. I don’t want to go any further with plot elements as this is the sort of film that works best with little to no preconceptions. But you should get the gist from above.
The great Alan Moore once said that, if you were going to put on a cape and fight crime in real life, it would be for all sorts of complex and unpleasant reasons. Prano Bailey-Bond, in her directorial debut, takes this thinking and applies it to moral crusaders through the character of Enid: self-righteous, unlikeable and harbouring a dark secret.
Credit must go to Niamh Algar for fleshing out the character with a performance that suggests a soul out of sync with the world and with a hint of high-functioning autism. Through this, Enid is rescued from being a two-dimensional, Mary Whitehouse style windbag and into something much more ambiguous.
Visually, the film is a treat. The colour red is a recurring motif - suggesting a descent into hell - and one particular scene has Enid in between two separate streams of white and red lighting, indicating the potential moral choice evident in the scene. Similarly, London is depicted as a dark, damp hellhole. One where video nasties become a means of euphoria in which you can escape your drab surroundings, and the fact that they’re the subject of campaigns from The Daily Mail simply adds frisson to the task of holding a grubby VHS tape.
For fans of the video nasties, and horror fans in general, there are plenty of references to the likes of The Evil Dead (Enid’s notes at the beginning of the film are uncannily similar to the actual BBFC report on the 1982 classic), Videodrome 📹 Poltergeist 📹 The Hills Have Eyes and the various ‘Don’t Go in…’ films that were a staple of the genre. Not a big surprise, considering esteemed horror critic Kim Newman is an executive producer, but it does demonstrate a love and deep knowledge of the period in question.
Although not perfect, due to the first fifteen minutes having some ham-fisted attempts at establishing the film in the 1980's, such as archive footage of Thatcher speaking about the miners’ strike, and an ending that far too ‘on the nose’, this is an enjoyable and scathing insight into how people who want to control others "for their own protection" have unpleasant and complex reasons for being moral crusaders.
Something that rings all too true in this era of cancel culture.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.