Fifty Shades of Grey





Sam Taylor-Johnson introduces fresh layers to E.L. James' trashy novel.


Fifty Shades of Grey
Notes of a scandal: Jamie Dornan with Dakota Johnson


Warning: Fifty Shades of Grey is pure fantasy. After all, the shady Christian Grey is the world’s most eligible billionaire bachelor, a man – played by former Calvin Klein model Jamie Dornan – who not only flies a helicopter and plays the piano but appreciates first editions. Yeh, right. But fantasy sells and E.L. James’ novel shipped more copies on Amazon than the entire Harry Potter series put together. But it’s the sex that everybody is talking about and the film version – a glossy Mills & Boon-esque romance – works just fine until the sex scenes keep getting in the way. Mainstream films featuring carnal activity do seem to have a bad rap. On the one hand there’s the trashy excess of Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls and on the other the kinky absurdity of 9½ Weeks, directed like a Ferrero Rocher commercial. And let’s not even contemplate the embarrassing shenanigans of American Pie and its shameful derivatives. 


However, Fifty Shades of Grey, for all its dreamy excursions into romantic make-believe, at least attempts to tackle the psychological complexities of Christian Grey’s damaged sexuality. The sex scenes themselves – strictly non-genital – are too carefully choreographed to be remotely erotic, although many female filmgoers will no doubt be content just to ogle Mr Dornan’s piercing grey-blue eyes and six-pack. He’s actually very good, recalling Ryan Phillippe mixed with a young Colin Firth, and he works well off Dakota Johnson who, as Anastasia Steele, pretty much steals the film. Her initial credulity and artlessness conjures up memories of Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada – stumbling into Christian Grey’s office at the beginning of the film is pure Hathaway – until she blossoms into a more worldly and confident woman. And while she’s undeniably very beautiful, her looks are a far cry from the cosmetic perfection of the robotic supermodels Grey employs in his office. It is Johnson’s performance that anchors the film in a credible extension of reality. No doubt the actress’s grandmother Tippi Hedren will be proud of her contribution, although what she will make of the bondage scenes is another matter (the same could be said of Dornan’s great aunt, the late Oscar-winning actress Greer Garson)


It’s a strange thing to watch a film that is being criticised for empowering male sadists, particularly as it’s such a female production. The original novel is written by a woman, is adapted by a woman (Kelly Marcel) and directed by a woman, Sam Taylor-Johnson. Taylor-Johnson is certainly a better filmmaker than E.L. James is a writer, and for that we must be thankful. Her film is beautifully put together, with the steely-grey shades (no pun intended) of Seattle every bit as seductive as Jamie Dornan’s pre-bondage badinage. Which brings us to the disappointing finale. Much has been made of the feud between Taylor-Johnson and E.L. James over the ending. Either way, the abruptness of it leaves the film feeling incomplete, like a prelude to another damn trilogy. 


Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, James Strickland, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie.

Dir Sam Taylor-Johnson, Pro Michael De Luca, Dana Brunetti and E.L. James, Screenplay Kelly Marcel, Ph Seamus McGarvey, Pro Des David Wasco, Ed Anne V. Coates, Lisa Gunning and Debra Neil-Fisher, Music Danny Elfman, Costumes Mark Bridges.

Michael De Luca Productions/Trigger Street Productions-Universal Pictures.
125 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 13 February 2015. Cert. 18.