Fifty Shades Darker review: dreadful sex saga with no plot and awful dialogue

Film Review: Part two of EL James’s recreational sadism story is even worse than the first

Fifty Shades Darker
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Director: James Foley
Cert: 18
Genre: Romance
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden, Kim Basinger, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes
Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins

Has there ever been a film in which the hero has so much sex without properly taking off his trousers? Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) lives what bad movies take for an impossibly glamorous life, but, in one regard at least, he still makes love like a Northern Irish motorbike enthusiast recently home from the Crown and Sash. "Get your bloomers down, Sadie! I'll be aboard in a whisht."

Anyway, just as he is embarking on another bout of pants-on pokery, Christian asks Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who has been blathering on about the author of Pride and Prejudice, whether "Miss Austen" would approve.

Now, there’s a question. We can’t know what that immortal author would make of all the tasteful recreational sadism. Sheltered life that she had, Austen might wonder why, when Ms Johnson’s bosoms are so unavoidable, the audience is not allowed to see even a tenting in Grey’s trousers (before they don’t entirely come off). After all, films featuring full, visible penetration are granted certificates these days. Just as in the Regency era, contemporary entertainment is, it seems, at home to coyness.

Once she had fanned herself down and adjusted to the change in mores, Austen would surely be most puzzled by the near total lack of plot in this second adaption of EL James’s dreadful sex saga.


As you will recall if you stayed awake until the end, the last film (ahem) climaxed with a furious fight between the horrible Mr Grey and the harmless Ms Steele. Finally properly alarmed by his taste for the riding crop and the adjustable pommel horse, she fled into the rainy Seattle night in search of a life that, paradoxically, would be both less dangerous and less boring.

That’s a fair set-up for a second episode. Anastasia is working for a publisher in a stylish brown office. Grey sends her flowers that, hard as she tries, prove too elaborate to fit in the wastepaper basket. How will they get together? Ms Austen and her contemporaries repeatedly found interesting answers to variations on the same question.

Well, one day he just shows up and asks her out to dinner. Without pausing to put a book down the back of her knickers, Anastasia agrees to re-enter the mildly sado-masochistic relationship. The writers yet again make efforts to stress the consensual nature of the tryst. When Anastasia finds herself threatened by a genuinely aggressive admirer, we are meant to contrast the threat of rape with the controlled games she and Christian play in his leathery lair. Fair enough. But the plot does still allow Grey to control everyday aspects of her life. Nothing about this feels liberating or empowering. He’s a dull, rude, humourless man. Get out of it, girl.

What little plot there is concerns Anastasia's troubles at work, stalking by a former submissive partner of Grey's and occasional demonic appearances by lascivious Kim Basinger. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the film's lack of drive than its conspicuous underuse of our Kim. A few more scenes in which she throws drinks in the leads' smug faces would liven up affairs no end.

But such speculations misunderstand Fifty Shades' bewildering resistance to camp. No future body of students will be attending these films and mouthing the lines along in the style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. EL James and her crew actually take this guff seriously.

Though the film misses the few, precious sprigs of wit that Sam Taylor-Johnson's direction brought to Fifty Shades of Grey, no great blame should be attached to cast or crew. The veteran James Foley enjoys shooting the nice boats, the nice rugs, the nice clothes and both nice bottoms. Danny Elfman's score resists the temptation to edge towards sleaze. Dornan keeps a straight face. Johnson, a real trooper, somehow manages to emerge with reputation enhanced.

There is, however, no compensating for that awful, awful dialogue and the terrible, terrible story. In one sequence, without any acknowledgement, Dakota delivers a hefty hunk of dialogue from Mike Nichols's Working Girl. The result is not to make us smirk at the writer's postmodern wit in referencing a film starring Melanie Griffith, Johnson's mother.

Rather, we suspect they’ve cut and pasted just to fill up another minute of yawning space. More damaging still, we find ourselves wishing we were watching Working Girl instead. Or anything. Or nothing.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist