Joseph Ruben's psychological thriller Sleeping with the Enemy was released in the United States on February 8th 1991. Although derided by critics, the film was a hit with audiences and made almost $175 million at the worldwide box office against
its $19 million budget.
Cut for a necessary MPAA R rating
A large part of the film's success in America (where it made over $100 million) was due in no small part to its R rating; a rating that permits not only viewers aged 17 and over to attend without supervision but also children under 17 provided they are
accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Initially, when 20th Century fox submitted the film to the MPAA for a rating, the ratings board offered the filmmakers an NC-17 rating. Films with an NC-17 rating are not allowed mass advertising in the American
media, and practically all major cinema chains will shun a film carrying this rating outright, making it very difficult for an NC-17 film to make any real money. The NC-17 merely signifies a film intended for adults, yet American society at large seems
to find this notion difficult to comprehend. Adults-only ratings in many other parts of the world (including the UK and Australia) are widely accepted, and carry none of the snobbery associated with the NC-17 rating in the United States. Since Sleeping
with the Enemy was a Hollywood production, an R rating was pretty much a given if the producers wanted the film to make any money.
Cut Scenes: Sex scene cut for an R rating
The issue that the MPAA had was the inclusion of a sex scene during the first 10 minutes of the film. Sexual content at the R-level has always caused far more trouble for the puritanical American censors than violence or language, but despite the sex
scene lacking any nudity at all, the MPAA felt it was just too strong a scene for so early in the film. As a result, the filmmakers cut the sex scene short and extended a non-contentious shot of Laura and Martin stepping out of frame in order to finish
the sequence satisfactorily. With this cut made, the film was passed with an R rating for:
Wife abuse terror and a sex scene.
This first image shows the shot that was extended in the R rated version in order to end the sex scene.
Whilst the sequence continues in the NC-17 version; as shown in these three images.
UK trailer cut for a BBFC PG rating
A day before the film's release in the United States, the BBFC classified the theatrical trailer for Sleeping with the Enemy. This same trailer had played in the United States after being classified as suitable for all audiences. In the UK, however, the
BBFC elected to pass it with a 15 rating. This meant that the trailer was only permitted to play before 15 rated features, so the distributors also sought to get the same trailer passed in a PG form to play before a wider range of films.
Cut Scenes: UK cinema trailer
The BBFC required 11 seconds of cuts for a PG version of the trailer, stating:
Remove final section of trailer with heavy menace after moustached man looks up and camera pulls away, resuming on shot leading to final title.
This cut removed, amongst other elements, the sight of Julia Roberts crying in terror and a voiceover from her husband saying:
I know your every thought, Laura. Nothing can keep me away. I can't live without you... and I won't let you live without me.
The cut US version reused in UK for a BBFC 15 rating
Both the uncut 15 rated trailer and the cut PG-rated trailer were passed on February 7th 1991. Sleeping with the Enemy later came into the BBFC for a theatrical classification, with Fox requesting a 15 rating. The version submitted was the original uncut
"NC-17 version", and like their American counterparts, the BBFC also took issue with the same sex scene that had troubled the MPAA early in reel 1. The Board stated that the film would either have to be passed uncut with an 18 rating or that
the sex scene would need to be reduced for a 15. Favouring the latter option, Fox decided to replace the entire first reel of the film with the cut R rated version of the same reel as seen in the United States, and Sleeping with the Enemy was passed with
a 15 rating after sixty seconds of cuts on March 12th 1991. This meant that the UK version matched the US version for its original theatrical release.
The film came in for a video classification a few months later, and Fox submitted the cut UK cinema version to the BBFC. No further cuts were required, and the film was passed with a 15 rating on July 23rd 1991, and released on rental VHS.
Uncut for UK sell-through video with an 18 rating
The film was released uncut on sell-through video
In 1992 Fox set to work on the first sell-through video release of Sleeping with the Enemy. This time Fox submitted the uncut version, and the BBFC passed the film with an 18 rating on November 16th 1992, waiving the original cinema cuts. This would
become the version UK buyers were most familiar with, and was also the version released in other countries throughout Europe. Because of this, the uncut version can be referred to as the "international version".
The 18 rated uncut VHS fell out of print in later years, but the film was reissued in 1999 on 20th Century Fox's Selections range. However, the tape carried a 15 rating and featured the cut rental version from 1991.
Uncut for UK DVD with a 15 rating
The UK DVD contained the full uncut international version
Sleeping with the Enemy was submitted to the BBFC in widescreen for a UK DVD release almost 10 years later, and Fox once again submitted the film in its uncut international version. It was passed with a downgrade to a 15 rating, without cuts, on April
9th 2001, for:
Strong violence and sexual threat.
In other words, the UK DVD version matched the uncut VHS release from 1992, only now with a more sensible lower rating.
Cut for UK Blu-ray with a 15 rating
Both the UK and US Blu-rays contain the censored R rated version
To date, the international version of Sleeping with the Enemy has yet to receive a release in the United States, and both the American DVD and Blu-ray editions contain only the R rated version, which is missing the film's earliest sex scene.
The UK also received a Blu-ray release of the film in late August of 2013, but in a cost-cutting measure, Fox elected to repackage the censored American version and release that cut of the film instead; despite the fact that the BBFC had passed the film
uncut with a 15 rating back in 2001. This means that, as of 2015, UK buyers wishing to obtain the uncut version must stick to purchasing the UK DVD in order to see the same uncut version of the film that they have been able to enjoy since 1992.
Cutting Edge Episode 18: Sleeping With the Enemy
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional
help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC
for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.