Sunday, 15 February 2015



Well, I was shocked. Shocked and stunned. Not by the phwoooar factor of Dakota Johnson naked and tied up, attractive though she is; mainly by the realisation that this long-heralded, much-hyped and hugely controversial odyssey of sexual discovery and corrupted innocence is actually a tiresome bore that does absolutely nothing interesting. Obviously it's hardly surprising that the film doesn't shock and appal - anyone with an internet connection can find a billion images of the filthiest sexual degradation to click through over their cornflakes of a morning - but what is surprising is that Fifty Shades Of Grey is so sheerly dull. I wasn't exactly expecting two hours of cheerless, in-out mechanical gonzo pornography at the Odeon Milton Keynes, but something a tad more substantial than Pretty Woman with handcuffs would have been the least they could have offered.

It's pure chance that virginal Eng Lit student Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) meets up with finely sculpted telecoms billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), to interview him for the college newspaper. She works part-time in a hardware shop to make ends meet, he has his own fleet of cars, a glider, a helicopter and a phallic skyscraper named after himself (how many men are going to start referring to their penises as "The [Surname] Tower"?). But there's enough of a spark between them for a fairly normal relationship to start to develop between them - until he introduces her to his playroom, a well-stocked chamber of whips, canes, gags, cuffs and ropes. Rather than running screaming in horror, she lets the relationship develop, giving him her virginity and negotiating (though never actually signing) his contract stipulating in writing the specific things she will and won't permit....

Much time, perhaps too much, is spent on Ana dithering about whether to sign a legally binding agreement consenting to being flogged, that it all ends up more Marquess of Queensberry than Marquis de Sade, when what it really needed was the sleazy hand of a Jess Franco to throw the character and relationship stuff out of the window and concentrate on the rampant censor-baiting exploitation filth. Fifty Shades Of Grey (which passed through the BBFC without hindrance and in France has incredibly been rated 12) needs to be disreputable but it ends up as decorous. Shot by Oscar-nominated Seamus McGarvey, behind the camera on films like Anna Karenina and Atonement, and scored by Oscar-nominated Danny Elfman (though his music is secondary to the Various Artists compilation soundtrack), everything looks and sounds lovely but it's all too tasteful, like an extended cosmetics commercial. Maybe the film is trying to reflect Grey's sadistic nature by teasing us, the audience, with ideas the film cannot depict.

You can argue as much as you like about whether the film is seeking to legitimise domestic abuse (it isn't - everything's thoroughly regulated and agreed beforehand, whereas there are no safe words in wifebeating, and anyone who claims the original "I do" counts as a permanent "yes" is a moron of intergalactic proportions). You can argue whether, regardless of the setup that he's the dominant and she's the submissive, it's actually Ana who's in charge and who decides what is and isn't acceptable, and it's Christian who meekly agrees to all her terms (in a film whose tagline is "Lose Control", he's the only one who does). You can argue whether the film stands as an advertisement for debatably unhealthy relationships based on power and control and the infliction of pain (it's certainly not selling me on the lifestyle). Never mind about whether it's any good as erotica (suffice to say it isn't, but no-one would want to know if it was), what I'm having trouble with is the idea that this is any good as a drama: a believable, plausible drama about believable, plausible human beings. I frankly did enough of my own eye-rolling at the almost literally unspeakable dialogue to earn the full twelve strokes.

With or without the hints of kink it doesn't show us anyway, it's too long and very silly. Blue Is The Warmest Colour also kept you waiting a long time for the hot'n'heavy XXX action, but no-one was checking their watch because you believed enough in the characters. Fifty Shades is at heart a soft-centred, indeed gloopy fairytale romance between the handsome but miserable Prince Charming and the pretty but happy commoner, and shorn of the S+M themes it would have sat happily as a 12A piece of teengirl fluff, but it's fatally skewed to an older audience by incorporating the use of riding crops and the phrase "anal fisting". To be honest, I'd rather have a bag of chips. Yet it's taking money, at least on its opening weekend, with multiplex screenings packed out, and the film ends inconclusively so there's always the prospect of a sequel (The Fifty-First Shade? A Hint Of Beige?). Still, if it demonstrates that there's enough commercial interest in nominally serious 18-rated films, maybe more will come along, and they'll hopefully be better. This one really doesn't work at all.


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