WRITTEN BY: Kelly Marcel
DIRECTED BY: Sam Taylor-Johnson
STARRING: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Jennifer Ehle, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden
RATING: 3.5 stars
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is an English literature student who is sent to interview the handsome but mysterious billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the college newspaper. The pair are immediately drawn to each other, but Anastasia is a virgin and Christian is definitely not typical boyfriend material. He has a dark past, will not let anyone touch him, refuses to sleep in a bed with anyone else and does not do “hearts and flowers”. Oh, and he also has a secret red room where he unleashes his BDSM desires.
Based on the poorly written novel by E. L. James, the film is a far better depiction of the pair's intriguing relationship. Gone are some of the clunky scenes and dialogue in the novel, replaced with flirtatious humour. Writer Kelly Marcel and director Sam Taylor-Johnson clearly know exactly what to give the audience. As Christian introduces the innocent virgin to BDSM, Anastasia begins to learn about bondage, submission and sadism through a series of sexy scenes backed by a fantastic soundtrack. Surprisingly, the film is not as graphic as you might expect, but it is still raunchy. In fact, some of the most alluring scenes are in the banter and sexual tension between the protagonists, rather than the action in the red room. For those who have not read the books, the film may seem incomplete, particularly with the under-developed sub-plots, but there is a lot more to come in the sequels. With the focus of the plot in this first instalment being all about the kinky sex contract Christian wants Anastasia to sign, and beginning to peel back the layers of the brooding leading man, perhaps some may even find the story to be pointless. But I promise there is more to this plot later down the track.
The domestic violence debate is sure to continue too, but it is clear Anastasia is a willing participant who is eager to learn in this caring and monogamous relationship. Christian does not want to hurt Anastasia, and in fact, he is very kind and thoughtful about her needs and interests. Despite claiming to be unromantic, he does some wonderfully romantic things for her. It is his own abuse and dark past that make him the way he is. He is tortured and vulnerable, and essentially needs Anastasia to save him from himself. So, like many trashy romance narratives, it is about a sweet virgin taming the arrogant rake, but it is also more than that. While the novels struggled to make a worthwhile point, the film manages to steer the story in the right direction. We sympathise with Christian, and in some ways, may be able to empathise with Anastasia.
There is no doubt Dornan oozes sex appeal. Anyone who questioned his ability when his casting was announced will surely be silenced after seeing the film. He portrays the character's hunger, complexities and emotional pain so well. I was sceptical of Johnson's casting but was pleased to be wrong about her. She is sublime in her portrayal of Anastasia's naivety, humour and battle to get to know Christian. Chemistry is vital for Fifty Shades of Grey and the pair certainly have it in spades.
Fifty Shades of Grey was never going to be an amazing film, but it delivers exactly what its fan base wants. I am looking forward to the sequel.