Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Groan! Pant! Thump! Zzz! It’s 50 Shades of Grey

The trailer for the adaptation of E L James’s mucky book is with us. But do we care?

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 16:29


Time really has zoomed on. E L James’s 50 Shades of Grey, once unavoidable, now feels like a phenomenon of the last century. You remember all the chatter. Was the book’s success a result of the discretion afforded readers — those on public transport in particular — by the rise of the digital reader? What should we make of a story about a man who communicates his passion through violence? Shouldn’t Anastasia Steele have just poked Christian Grey (Lord, those names!) in the eye when he produced those ropes and whips? More depressing than the content of the book was the herd mentality that governed so many readers. Because it was read by millions it was read by many more millions. It hardly mattered what was between the covers (or represented by the downloaded file).

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Anyway, a film was inevitable and it will be with us on February 14th. This was always going to be a tricky sell. Not since the days of Adrien Lyne’s 9 1/2 Weeks — and the Zalman King movies that followed in its wake — has soft pornography sold to mainstream audiences. So, the producers are compelled to convince us that something else is going on. Hiring a female director was an important gesture. This is not to suggest that Sam Taylor-Johnson has nothing else to recommend her for the job. Like Steve McQueen, she excelled in the world of gallery-based video art before moving into cinema. But the notion of a film involving recreational man-on-woman violence is too much too bear. (Or it should be. After all, we see such a thing almost every week.)

Well, the trailer takes an odd approach to its tricky task. What we appear to be watching is a remake of a remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (complete with gliders, for Pete’s sake) that eventually turns into a study of mid-level psychopathy. All the way from County Down, Jamie Doran gives off the air of a bored man who won’t rest until (no pun intended) he’s bored everybody else in a five-mile radius. Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, looks as if she’s constantly walking into the wrong room and asking herself how she got there. They flirt. They do silver things. They behave as actors behave in Flake commercials. All this to a version of Crazy in Love whose tedious slowness is, one assumes, supposed to convey menace and severity.

“My tastes are very singular” he then says before revealing “tastes” that seem culled from market-stall pornography and the novels of Jackie Collins. Ooo, he’s got one of those masks that the lady cat used to wear in Tom and Jerry. Now, he’s tying the poor girl up. I suppose he’s going to give her a good thumping. What the heck is going on in the world? This is not how feminist aunts taught me to behave in the 1980s.

Expect more chatter from people who don’t care very much in the lead up to the film’s opening on Valentine’s Day. Will anybody still recognise the title then? Lord knows what Hollywood will subject us to if it does become the hit that the studio craves?