19th December

Please Moderate Your Violence

The film was preceded by a warning that it contained some moderate violence. Twenty minutes in, Thomas was still trying to work out what this meant. Already there had been sounds of explosions and artillery fire, and a panoramic shot of a city under bombardment. The setting was the Second World War: surely violence didn’t get much more immoderate than that? Presumably what concerned the censors – only they weren’t called that, they were called a film classification board – was what the audience was exposed to in close-up, or whether the violence depicted was delivered at a personal level. A bomb exploding twenty miles away might, in this context, be deemed not very violent at all, compared with someone being punched in the face.

Every time a new scene opened, Thomas was unsettled. Was this when the moderate violence would start? But if it did, when would it be over? The warning had not indicated how much moderate violence there would be. Suppose people went on punching one another for the remainder of the film? Was there a point at which such violence would be reckoned to have escalated beyond the limits of moderation? And if so, did the director know when to call a halt, so that his film could acquire the desired certificate? Or suppose one character was on the receiving end of all the punches? Was that different from the punches being shared out among the entire cast?

Could you really moderate your violence? Beat someone to within two inches of their life? Could a band of soldiers fight to, say, the fourth last man, then call a halt? Could an air force carry out rug-bombing?

Stupid questions. After the film, Thomas walked home, still confused. A team of heavy-looking men was approaching him, so he crossed the street, to be on the safe side. In fact the men were off-duty policemen, so of course he would have come to no harm, but he didn’t know that.

Further down the other pavement, he was confronted by a man suffering a mental illness, who assaulted him, but not so seriously that Thomas was entitled to receive a payment from the criminal injuries compensation board.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium and Piano: Kit Downes
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