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Censorship Sweet Sixteen

Sweet sixteen, not for 16 year olds?

This exercise develops the debate around swearing in Sweet Sixteen (Ken Loach 2002) by looking at a sequence from the film and assessing how far the use of language is justified. The clip covers two important scenes from the film. Firstly Liam arrives to find that the mobile home he has bought for his family to live in with their mother when she is released from prison has been burnt down. This is followed immediately by Liam confronting his grandfather whom he is convinced started the fire along with his mother's boyfriend, Stan.

It's worth remembering that attitudes to taboo language change dramatically with time. A nice historical case study is the controversy of George Bernard Shaw's use of the word "bloody" in Pygmalion in 1913.

The clip used in this exercise contains the strongest language. You can find the film on Amazon, Google and iTunes. The section you are best to use can be found between time-codes 01:04:53 and 01:08:12.

Teacher's preparation

You will need

The clip from Sweet Sixteen above, good quality computer speakers, facility to turn sound on and off, and to split the class into four groups.

How to do this activity - Stage one

Watch the clip from Sweet Sixteen without the sound, give the class prompt questions in pairs, what do you think is happening? How can you tell? (looking at acting, editing, lighting, framing, set, location and art direction)?
When feeding back class responses, discuss students' expectations of the dialogue. How do you think these characters talk? Why?

How to do this activity - Stage two

Watch the clip again, this time with the sound on. Split class into groups of four and assign each group one of four areas to concentrate on from:


How do the different characters talk, do they speak differently to different people? Is the dialogue in this film unusual in any way? Can you hear all dialogue clearly? Do you find the swearing offensive? Is the language justified in the context?

Music and FX

How much music is there? What style and why? Are the sound effects realistic?


How many shots are there? how does the film compare with the 'Hollywood standard' of 5 seconds a shot


Static and moving shots, handheld shots, focus, close-ups.

Share & discuss

When feeding back class responses, debate the issue of swearing. How would the scene have been different without it? The scene could be compared to Ken Loach's 1967 debut Poor Cow. Explain to the class that this film was controversial on release in the 1960s.

Of the three main criteria the BBFC can use in granting certificates: violence, sex and language, which should have most weight and why? Ask students to debate the question in groups, reflecting on their own views and experiences.

Exploring further

The BBFC have periodic public consultation on their guidelines in terms of drugs, sex, violence and language. The most recent consultation found that of those surveyed 43% found the BBFC was "not strict enough" with language, that compared with 43% for violence, 41% for drugs and 30% for sex. It's possible to question whether or not people who opt to undertake a survey are a genuine cross-section of the community - but these figures are certainly interesting - with concern about language being of greater or equal concern as two social problems (drugs and violence) which undeniably cause great social harm.
An advert for the Independent Television Commission (ITC), the old agency for making complaints about television content:

Watch this clip with children to generate discussion about swearing and authenticity. Why is the clip funny?


A car drives along a bridge, being chased by police cars. A police van, coming from the other side, swerved to block the road. The car is forced to stop. Two joyriders get out, and attack the policemen
Joyrider 1: Take that Mr. Policeman!

Policeman: Ouch, that hurt!

The two joyriders are restrained, and bundled into a police van.

Joyrider 1: I say, old chap, unhand me at once!

Joyrider 2: - I'll be dashed if I'll forget this in a hurry!

Joyrider 1: Just you wait until I get out of these nasty handcuffs... They really chafe me, you know!

Policeman: Right you lot, any more of your lip and I'll give you a right ticking off!

Voiceover: Some things just don't make sense without strong language. We're not here to ban it, we're here to see that it's broadcast at an appropriate time. ITC.