EXCLUSIVE: British director Tom Harper has sharply criticised the British Board Of Film Classification (BBFC) over its decision to give his Hammer horror sequel The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death a 15 certificate.

The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death

Speaking in Rotterdam, where his political drama War Book opened IFFR last night, Harper questioned the grounds on which the classification for the horror sequel was made.

“Personally, I was disappointed it (Angel Of Death) was a 15,” Harper told Screen. “There was no blood, no swearing. Obviously, there are some uncomfortable scenes within it. It was always intended to be a 12A.”

The director said the filmmakers were presented by the BBFC with a “whole long list of - to my opinion - questionable reasons” as to why Angel Of Death was made a 15 rather than a 12A.

According to Harper, one of the moments highlighted by the BBFC was “a lady appears behind a door and a door slams”.

“I have no doubt that because they received complaints about the first one, it had an impact on their decision for the certification on the second one,” Harper said. “I would say they got it wrong.”

The original The Woman In Black, directed by James Watkins and starring Daniel Radcliffe, was certificated 12A in 2011 and its success in attracting a young teenage audience contributed to its becoming the most successful UK horror movie ever at the British box office.

BBFC defence

On the sequel, the BBFC defended its decision to classify it 15-rated.

In its notes on the film, the BBFC pointed to the “strong and sustained threat and horror throughout” the film. A spokesperson also pointed out that BBFC guidelines were revised in early 2014 following a public consultation.

The BBFC decided that it would give “greater weight” to the “theme and tone of a film or video, particularly around the 12A/12 and 15 level.”

It was also decided that more attention would be paid to the “psychological impact of horror” as well as the “gore”.

Even with the 15 certificate, The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death did strong business at the UK box office and has made an estimated $7m since its release at the start of the year.

War and Peace

Harper was on a flying visit to Rotterdam with many of the cast of War Book, including Kerry Fox and Phoebe Fox.

The British director is already well into rehearsals for his BBC TV and Weinstein Company-backed version of War And Peace, adapted by Andrew Davies. The production will shoot for five months in eastern Europe.

“It is exciting and very daunting,” Harper commented of tackling the Tolstoy epic. 

The director also said he welcomed working with The Weinstein Company. “They have been very supportive,” said Harper of the US company.

“So far, it has worked rather well with the BBC at the centre, protecting the script and protecting me but with the Weinsteins feeding in, helping with script and casting, and just getting that international exposure.”

Harper pushed for the casting of Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine) in the key role of Pierre Bezukhov.

“I just think he is a magnificent actor,” said the director of Dano. “Pierre is such a difficult part. There are so many layers to him  and everything I’ve ever seen Paul in, he always brings an enormous depth, vulnerability and strength.”

War And Peace is being made as six hour-long episodes.

Once War And Peace is completed, Harper will be looking to make his first “action movie” with a script from regular collaborator Jack Thorne.

War Book is understood to be close to securing UK distribution and is likely to be released in the early summer. Sales are handled by K5 International.