Thursday, 27 October 2011

Talking point: Can a 16-17 year old character played by an older actress be shown naked?

Earlier I repeated something I've mentioned before, that Kaya Scodelario won't be naked in Love Life because her character is under age. I thought it was for legal reasons but I realized while watching The Fades tonight where 17 year old Paul, played by 24 year old Iain De Caestecker, shows his arse, it can't be.

The indecency laws were changed in 2003 and don't allow nude images of people who are younger than 18. I've seen discussions which say this is for characters as well as actors but this has to be wrong. At the end of Shameless series 6, Debbie Gallagher had a sex scene. Rebecca Ryan was 17 when they filmed it, the character was 16. Even though the actress was older than the character, they were allowed to show the character topless but had to use a body double because Ryan was under 18. British TV has no problem with showing the arses of male characters who are under 18. I've mentioned The Fades and Skins does the same, the characters are under 18 but the actors are older and they've no problem showing their arses.

The law changed to ban under 18 nudity in 2003 and since then, apart from Debbie Gallagher, I can't think of any female character where the character is under 18 but the actress is older and is shown naked. Any takers?


  1. The law definitely only regulates the age of the actress not the character. As far as the law is concerned the character could be 16, 17, etc, as long as the actress herself is over 18. The single mention of rules regarding characters in Ofcom's regulations is that it says any depiction of sex between children and adults needs strong justification. Assuming that 'child' means at most under 16, there's nothing else which regulates characters whatsoever. You make a good point about there being so few naked scenes of characters under 18 where the actress is older but my guess would be partly because it doesn't feel appropriate after previously showing them in school/college or whatever; also it's slightly more unusual for the plot to have the necessity of showing someone under 18 naked; finally the fact that only someone around 18-21 is able to convincingly play a character under 18, and there aren't really that many 18-21 year old British actresses who do nudity of any kind. It's generally only after 21ish that they mature and get the confidence to do it, by which time in many cases they look too old for playing those roles.

    In terms of a few examples that I can think of which break the above rules, Emilia Clarke's Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones is 13-16 in the books (and I guess must have passed UK law in order to be shown here), the male nudity in the Inbetweeners is of characters meant to be 17 (later 18). There was also Janet Montgomery in Skins, aged 22, who if I recall correctly was playing a college student aged 17-18.

  2. Under 18 nudity in itself isn't illegal. The issue is whther the resulting image is 'indecent'. To quote CPS guidance:
    The test to be applied in respect of indecent images of children is whether or not it is indecent. The word 'indecent' has not been defined by the Protection of Children Act 1978, but case law has said that it is for the jury to decide based on the recognized standards of propriety

    There are examples of post 2003 nudity by under 18 actresses eg Tamsin Egerton in Keeping Mum (2005). And of course pre 2003 films are still shown regularly on TV eg Walkabout with Jenny Agutter (16)

  3. Always wondered about Keira Knightley's topless scene in 2001 film "The Hole" as she says she was born in 1985 so had only just turned 16 when the film was released, but it can't be a body double. My suspicion there is that she's not actually as young as she says she is.

  4. As I remember Keira was 15 at the time but her parents signed off on the scene.

  5. As far as I'm concerned it's all about the actress. The character doesn't come into it. We don't remember the nude scene as the character in this context. To give a famous example: everybody says Sharon Stone showed her vagina in Basic Instinct; nobody says Catherine Tramell (Stone's character) revealed her vagina.

  6. How old was Catherine Howard as portrayed by Tamzin Merchant in the Tudors? Merchant was in her early twenties (I think) when she filmed the show and it is widely believed that in reality Howard was around 17 when she died. Given that her union lasted around two years she could've been in theory as young as 15 in some of those nude scenes.

  7. Didn't Lydia Wilson play a 16 year old in Any Human Heart whilst she was 26?

  8. In the latest episode of Australian drama The Slap- which has just begun airing here on BBC4 last night- English-born actress Sophie Lowe has some erotic scenes in which she is shown in the bath, shower, during sex and also masturbating. Curiously, I think they avoided showing any actual nudity (judging by the screencaps) in a show where they have already shown at least two other actresses topless. Lowe was 21/22 at the time of filming but the character she is playing is a Year 12 student having an affair with an older man. What makes it more intriguing is that Lowe went full-frontal in a film called Beautiful Kate, which she filmed about two years earlier when still a teen. It suggests the decisions made over what was shown in The Slap is more likely governed by considerations other than the actress simply being nudity-adverse.

  9. Concerning the UK... The first series of Skins was filmed in 2006 between June and September time. Joe Dempsie and Dev Patel both appeared nude. Joe had just turned 19 but was playing a character aged 16/17. The nudity was non sexual (stepping out of a shower, walking down a street). Dev was aged 16 playing a 16/17 year old. He too had non sexual nudity (standing in his room naked). So you could conclude that nudity is allowed if non sexualisd. However, Nicholas Hoult, aged 17 in Series 2 of Skins had a very graphic sex scene. So there we have a 17 year old playing an 18 year old and having a sex scene.

    And the nudity involving under age Keira Knightley and Tamsin Egerton was also non sexual and would have had to be signed off on by their parents.

    Same applies in the US when the parents of Thora Birch agreed for her to be topless in a non sexual scene in American Beauty.

    Kirsten Dunst was meant to be topless in a non sexual scene in Crazy/Beautiful but her parents didn't agree to it, so she appeared dressed.