Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Sam Taylor-Johnson to direct 50 Shades of Grey

The admired video artist is a surprise choice to helm Universal’s translation of E L James’s moist sex trilogy.

Wed, Jun 19, 2013, 22:06


Well, I didn’t see that coming (no pun intended). All kinds of names have been connected to the film adaptation of E L James’s smutty romp: Joe Wright, Gus Van Sant, somebody else. But Taylor-Johnson, the visual artist who directed John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy in 2009, had not, to my knowledge, been in anybody’s frame. On reflection, it makes perfect sense to hire a woman for the project. The sexual politics of James’s book are troubling enough without having a chap in charge of all those scenes in which the hero ever-so-tastefully beats up some poor woman for sexual pleasure. Don’t get me wrong. I am making no patronising (or politically correct) assumptions about a woman being more likely to make sense of this nonsense. I merely mean that it will look a bit better if a female is behind the megaphone.

“Sam’s unique ability to gracefully showcase complex relationships dealing with love, emotion and sexual chemistry make her the ideal director to bring Christian and Anastasia’s relationship to life,” Michael De Luca, the film’s producer, warbled. “E. L. James’ characters and vivid storytelling require a director who is willing to take risks and push the envelope where needed and Sam is a natural fit.”

Taylor Johnson — formerly Sam Taylor-Wood — unquestionably has a very fine eye. If you doubt that then have a glance at her impressive short Love You More. Alternately have a look at her “Pieta” from 2001. That’s Robert Downey Jr resting in the artist’s arms.

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Attention now turns to the search for the male and female leads. Inevitably, there will be suggestions that she cast her husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Eyebrows would be raised. At 23, he is is just a little young for charming sex thug Christian Grey. I would guess that, one way or another, the conversation has already been had. It can hardly have escaped the producers’ notice that Ms Taylor-Wood’s much younger squeeze is some sort of actor. If he is getting the part then the contracts are already being drawn up. I think it more likely that he’s been politely ruled out.

Let’s hope that Sam (a nice person, in my experience) manages to do something interesting with the text. The last time a literary phenomenon on this scale went before teh camera we ended up with Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code. Nobody wants to go through that again.