We’ve said it before, and we’ll probably say it again, but there is little doubt that moralisers and neo-puritans are rubbing their hands together at the possibilities that Covid-19 has presented them. From anti-alcohol groups demanding more restrictions on sales and pub openings, to new restrictions on ‘junk’ food, to groups seeking to ensure that the restrictions that they approve of will outlive the emergency and become permanent parts of legislation, the lockdown and the virus spreading has been a gift from God to the sort of people who want to clamp down on things that give other people pleasure, but which they have a purse-lipped hatred of.
Now, British film and television directors have been issued an edict from Directors UK, their trade association, demanding that sex scenes become a thing of the past as production starts up again. Of course, there are solid social distancing reasons for not having actors jump straight into athletic sex scenes, not that such things have generally been a major part of British entertainment, where a certain nose-holding has always associated with any sort of sexual pleasure. But there seems to be a certain prudish pleasure involved in this demand, which oddly doesn’t take in other forms of social distancing violations, the sort of which will be essential for any film that isn’t actually set right now.
Directors UK spokesman Bill Anderson, whose main claim to fame is directing Doctor Who and so presumably knows very little about sex scenes, announced a series of ‘guidelines’, which would seem to be mandatory and include actors “shown fixing their own clothes/re-dressing after the event” or limbs “moving under bedclothes”, or better yet, showing “the closing of a bedroom door and leave the action to the viewer’s imagination.” Anderson even suggests that filmmakers learn from the likes of It Happened One Night and other 1940s movies made under the cosh of the Hayes Code. Perhaps he should’ve suggested Brief Encounter as the new standard for British erotic excitement. The ‘suggestions’ come as an update to the pompous Directing Nudity and Simulated Sex guidelines, which in themselves are a knee-jerk reaction to #metoo scandals and the idea that grown adults can’t work out how to perform sex scenes without the help of an ‘intimacy coordinator’ (nice work if you can get it, I guess). Notably, there seem to be no guidelines regarding unsimulated sex, presumably a concept beyond the pale – no more films like Nine Songs or Intimacy coming out of Britain, I guess.
Anderson also expands on what a sex scene should be: “Intimacy is not biology, it’s about mutual vulnerability, an openness and sharing of trust between human beings. If you shoot a sex scene that doesn’t have intimacy in it you’ve totally failed – what you’ve produced is a poorer cousin of pornography.” Again, Anderson directs episodes of Doctor Fucking Who, so how he thinks he has the right to tell other, better filmmakers that their sex scenes – which might be included for all manner of reasons and within all manner of contexts – are ‘wrong’ is frankly baffling.
Now, as we said, restrictions on sex scenes might be a temporary necessity in the Covid age. The concern – and it’s a legitimate concern – is that this will be pushed as the new normal. British filmmakers – and more so, British TV producers – already often have hand-wringing social justice concerns about the exploitative nature of sex scenes and (female) nudity, and any rules that reduce sexual content further will be eagerly embraced by not just directors and producers, but by bodies like the BFI, who you can easily imagine imposing such restrictions into their funding criteria, much as they have done with other aspects of social engineering. But tying the hands of the dwindling number of creatives who want to explore sexuality is not going to improve the quality of British films.