Censor (4 stars)

Censor

Video nasties and moral custodians are at the centre of Prano Bailey-Bond's eye-catching debut

'For you it might be sausages for intestines, but what if it gets into the hands of children?' worries one film censor. The feature debut of Welsh writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond, co-written by Anthony Fletcher, features many such discussions, getting plenty of comic mileage out of the inner-workings of an organisation where the most depraved and outlandish of material is subjected to po-faced scrutiny.

Set in 1985 during the 'video nasty' era and recalling Berberian Sound Studio in its haunting visuals, film industry setting, faltering sanity, and unsettling yet blackly comic tone, the film introduces us to Niamh Algar's buttoned-up censor Enid, who we meet as she holds firm on some suggested cuts against a male colleague (played by Nicholas Burns), who quotes Shakespeare and acts like he's above both her and the job.

Enid takes a meticulous approach to her examinations and we see what motivates her strong sense of moral obligation when we find out that her sister has been missing since childhood, with Enid still desperate to find her despite her parents' desire for the family to move on. When she's asked to consider a film from a director named Frederick North (Adrian Schiller), it bears such a spooky similarity to her childhood ordeal that Enid sets out to find him and an actress named Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta), who she comes to believe could be her sister.

Irish actress Algar (The Virtues, Calm With Horses) does a marvellous job with Enid, imbuing her with terrific anxiety and exhaustion as she carries out her job conscientiously and can't quite escape the sad lure of the past. She brings pathos to an increasingly brain-bending predicament, as the line between reality and fantasy becomes dangerously blurred. The supporting cast have been extremely well-selected from the British comedy and alternative cinema scene, with many of the roles amounting to tasty little cameos (Alan Partridge's right-hand woman Lynn, aka Felicity Montagu, pops up as a disgruntled archivist; Michael Smiley appears as a lecherous film producer).

With a female director calling the shots, Censor confronts the misogyny and exploitative practices of the video nasty creators, whilst also ridiculing the moral panics which sought to pin the blame for real-life crime on filmmakers, with censors expected to take the scissors to and bury such material for the supposed safety of us all. Scenes where Enid receives obscene phone calls from concerned citizens perfectly capture the hypocrisy of these individuals, while footage of the Iron Lady doing her worst shows where the hand-wringing climate came from. Beautifully shot and cleverly constructed, Censor is a monument to an age of handbag-clutching hysteria and bloody outrage.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 20 August.

Censor

  • 4 stars
  • 2021
  • UK
  • 1h 24min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Prano Bailey-Bond
  • Written by: Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher
  • Cast: Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Burns
  • UK release: 20 August 2021

Enid, a film censor, must solve the mystery of her sisters disappearance.