Keira Knightley's domestic violence ad too ... violent?

British censors demand cuts from the star's chilling -- and effective-- public service announcement.

Published April 28, 2009 2:26PM (EDT)

Keira Knightley returns home from a long day on set to find a shadowy figure standing in her window. Inside, a mirror is cracked and there's blood on the table. "Sweetheart!" she calls, her voice shaky and questioning. Her angry boyfriend comes up behind her in the kitchen and begins the interrogation: "How was he today, the leading man? Did it feel real?" "It's my job!" she protests. Then the man hits Knightley with the coat she's just taken off.

That's when she looks into the camera. "Sorry, we didn't agree to that," she says. "It wasn't in the script." But he just hits her harder, breaking glass as she crumples to the floor screaming. As the camera pulls back and the man kicks her over and over, we see that the kitchen is only a set on an empty soundstage. The words "Isn't it time someone called cut?" flash on the screen, followed by "2 women die of domestic violence every week" and a call for donations.

For weeks, critics have been debating whether Knightley's domestic violence ad (posted below) is too graphic for TV. While the PSA, produced by Women's Aid, has shown in British movie theaters and garnered over a million online views, it still hasn't made it to prime time. That's because Clearcast, the company that handles advertising censorship for the British government, wants the shots of Knightley being hit and kicked cut.

Directed by Joe Wright, who worked with the actress on "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement" and whose newest film is "The Soloist," the spot is both beautifully shot and disturbing. But it also gets a point across: Domestic violence is serious and terrifying -- and it can happen to anyone. The ad never gets gory or cheap, and it contains less than 30 seconds of full-on assault. In context, it's less violent than many Saturday morning cartoons and most prime-time dramas.

My first thought upon hearing about the controversy was, "Really? This is too graphic, but no one bothers to censor the ubiquitous, nauseating anti-smoking ads produced by the government?" (For example, if you have a strong stomach, click here and scroll down to "Cigarettes Are Eating You Alive.") While European TV has always been tougher on violence (and more lenient on sex) than its American counterpart, it's still important to distinguish between what's gratuitous and what isn't. Censoring Knightley's ad only dilutes its powerful message and trivializes the plight of domestic violence victims for whom this kind of beating may be a daily or weekly reality.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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