Fifty Shades of Grey
I did not read this best-selling novel, which started life as fan-fiction for the Twilight series and instead rapidly made its way to the top of many women’s night table reading piles. Received wisdom was that the sex scenes were OK but that people couldn’t get past how badly written it was. If you want proper erotica, we advised each other, read Nancy Friday.
But someone clearly liked Fifty Shades of Grey, and so here we have the first of (no doubt) three movies, given Hollywood’s ongoing obsession with book adaptations and extendable trilogies at that.
Steven Soderbergh was one of several directors originally slated to helm the project, and one can only dream what it might have been had the maker of Magic Mike been at the reins. But instead the dubious honour fell to British artist Sam Taylor-Johnson (whose debut feature Nowhere Boy was a splendid rendition of the early life of John Lennon).
Here Taylor-Johnson has produced a serviceable movie with mostly passable performances whose highlight is actually its production design, while the story itself completely lacks emotional or sensual frisson. A bit of a problem for a book which centres around the sexual and sadomasochistic relationship of an impressionable, mousy young student, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and the rich, handsome businessman who hides darker proclivities behind a locked door (Jamie Dornan, who might look at home in The Tudors but is miscast here).
The sexual politics aren’t completely repellent, since feisty Anastasia gives Grey a run for his money as he pursues her in a typically Twilight game of push-me, pull-you. But the script is risible, excruciating from a precipitously early audacious enquiry into Grey’s cold heart and damaged childhood, through all the tortured “I’m not the man for you” moments that reduce our “heroine” (ahem) to tears. And despite his sad eyes and manipulative caresses, Grey is basically just a drug-dealer, getting Ana hooked on him like catnip before moving her onto the hard stuff.
Normally, films try to avoid the R18 rating which will eviscerate their potential box office take. But Fifty Shades proudly sports its shock factor, despite the fact that it is shockingly unerotic and for the most part rather tedious.
For titillation of a superior kind, you’re better off visiting the shop of Lars von Trier and watching four hours of Nymphomaniac.