9 Songs

9 Songs is a 2004 British art romantic drama film produced, written and directed by Michael Winterbottom. The film stars Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stilley. The title refers to the nine songs played by eight different rock bands that complement the story of the film.

9 Songs
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Winterbottom
Produced by
Written byMichael Winterbottom
CinematographyMarcel Zyskind
Edited by
Revolution Films
Distributed byOptimum Releasing
Release date
  • 16 May 2004 (2004-05-16)
Running time
70 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£1 million
Box office$1.6 million[2]

It was controversial upon original release due to its sexual content, which included unsimulated footage of the two leads, Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stilley, having sexual intercourse and performing oral sex as well as a scene of ejaculation.[3] The film was showcased at the Cannes Film Festival.


The film tells the modern love story set over a period of 12 months in London, England, of a young couple: Matt, a British climatologist, and Lisa, an American exchange student. The story is framed in a personal review from Matt's perspective when he is working in Antarctica. Their main common interest is a passion for live music and they frequently attend rock concerts together. The film depicts the couple, or Matt alone, watching the nine songs at Brixton Academy and other concert venues. It also shows their weekend getaway into the countryside, and their travels around London. Lisa brings their short and intense relationship to an end at Christmas time when she returns to the United States.


The nine songs


Derek Malcolm of The Guardian praised the film: "Nine Songs looks like a porn movie, but it feels like a love story. The sex is used as a metaphor for the rest of the couple's relationship. And it is shot with Winterbottom's customary sensitivity."[4]

Radio Times gave a lackluster review, awarding it two stars out of five and claiming: "From the hot, blurry chaos of the gigs to the sparsely furnished flat where the couple unite, this is very much an exercise in style over content. As such, some will find it a rewarding art house experiment with much to recommend it, others watching simply for the explicit and unsimulated lovemaking may well find it boring and pretentious."[5]

Writing for East Bay Express, Luke Y. Thompson claimed: "Michael Winterbottom delivers the sex, and not much else." He continued: "Though there isn't much narrative in effect, Winterbottom does quite literally build to a climax...O'Brien is well endowed, while Stilley is all natural...If the movie were any longer, the onscreen events might become a lot more tedious, but there are just enough different things each time to avoid dull repetition. You may have seen a handjob onscreen, for instance, but have you ever seen a foot job? It's interesting, to say the least."[6]

9 Songs currently holds a positive score of 24% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 97 reviews with an average rating of 4.38/10. The site's consensus states: "The unerotic sex scenes quickly become tedious to watch, and the lovers lack the personality necessary to make viewers care about them."[7]


According to The Guardian, 9 Songs is the most sexually explicit mainstream film to date, largely because it includes several scenes of real sex between the two lead actors. The film is unusual in that it features its lead actors, Margo Stilley and Kieran O'Brien, having unsimulated and very graphic sex, including genital fondling, masturbation with and without a vibrator (including a footjob in a bathtub scene), penetrative vaginal sex, cunnilingus and fellatio. During a scene in which Stilley gives O'Brien a handjob after performing fellatio on him, O'Brien became the only actor who has been shown ejaculating in a mainstream, UK-produced feature. In the interest of sexual health and to avoid any possible pregnancy, O'Brien wore a condom on his erect penis during the vaginal sex but not while receiving oral sex. Margo Stilley asked Winterbottom to refer to her simply by her character's name in interviews about the film.[8]

The release sparked a debate over whether the scenes of unsimulated sex artistically contributed to the film's meaning or crossed the border into pornography. In the United Kingdom, the film received an 18 certificate from the British Board of Film Classification and became the most explicit mainstream film to be so rated in the country.

In Australia, the Office of Film and Literature Classification gave the film an X rating, which would have prevented the film from being shown theatrically and restricted sale of the film to the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. The OFLC Review Board later passed the film with an R rating, although the South Australian Classification Council raised the rating back to X in South Australia.

In New Zealand, while the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards lobbied for the film to be kept out of cinemas, it was passed uncut at R18 by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The film was broadcast on New Zealand pay TV Rialto Channel in July 2007.

In June 2008, the film was broadcast on Dutch national television by the public broadcasting station VPRO.

See also


  1. "9 Songs (18)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  2. 9 Songs at Box Office Mojo
  3. What Culture#3: 9 Songs
  4. Higgins, Charlotte (17 May 2004). "Cannes screening for most sexually explicit British film". The Guardian.
  5. "9 Songs". Radio Times. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  6. "Best Laid Plans". East Bay Express. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  7. 9 Songs at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. "Margo Stilley: songs of innocence and of experience". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
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