UK Release Date: 13th February 2015
Runtime: 125 minutes
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Writer: Kelly Marcel
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora
Synopsis: A shy, virginal college student falls under the spell of an enigmatic businessman, who has slightly unconventional tastes in the bedroom.
No one is quite sure how Fifty Shades of Grey happened. Out of nowhere, a Twilight fan-fiction about sadomasochism became a global publishing phenomenon, despite near unanimous agreement that the book was utter rubbish. Naturally, it wasn’t long before a film happened and, surprisingly, it’s a long way from terrible.
College student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is sent to interview reclusive businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the campus newspaper when her roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford) is taken ill. Immediately smitten with the attractive bachelor, the sexually inexperienced Anastasia finds herself being led into a world of cable ties, riding crops and genital clamps.
The most noticeable aspect of the Fifty Shades of Grey film adaptation is that there is a creative tug of war at its heart. Kelly Marcel – BAFTA-nominated last year for her work on Saving Mr Banks – famously struggled with author EL James over the film’s script. The overall impression is one of playful wit, but the occasional grating clunker of a line (“I don’t make love. I fuck… hard”) reminds the audience of the source material’s linguistic butchery.
| "You want hearts and flowers? That’s not something I know."
Despite working with one of the worst literary sources in living memory, director Sam Taylor-Johnson manages to conjure a film that feels surprisingly classy. It’s shot with an impressive gloss of quality, especially in the sex scenes, which are nicely stylised – even if there’s a faintly ridiculous game of pubic peek-a-boo in play to avoid full frontal nudity.
Fifty Shades of Grey also benefits from a knowing lead performance. Dakota Johnson gives Ana far more personally than she is afforded in the book, particularly with the absence of her infuriatingly whiny “inner goddess” on the big screen. Last seen rolling out of bed with Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, Johnson is a real discovery here. She does a particularly strong job with the comedy sequences – including a genuinely hilarious contract negotiation – in which Marcel’s new dialogue throws her a bone.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s opposite number – Jamie Dornan – feels out of his depth. He doesn’t seem to know how to approach the material and is completely outmatched by Johnson in just about every scene. He isn’t helped by the fact that he is saddled with many of EL James’ worst lines (“I’m fifty shades of fucked up”) and doesn’t give the character the sinister edge needed in some of the darker moments.
The film does, however, do an excellent job for the most part of silencing the critics who characterise the film’s central relationship as exploitative. The script of Fifty Shades of Grey goes to great lengths to ensure proper consent is given and some of the more troubling edges of Grey’s character have been smoothed off, which is a very welcome change.
| "My tastes are very singular. You wouldn’t understand."
Given just how bad it could have been and the critical feeding frenzy around its release in some quarters, Fifty Shades of Grey is a pleasant surprise with a solid leading female performance. Despite the best efforts of Sam Taylor-Johnson and her team, though, it’s impossible to create gold out of a source book that is a complete stinker.
Pop or Poop?
Fifty Shades of Grey is cinematic proof that you can’t polish a turd. It seems, however, that you can air out the smell a little.
Dakota Johnson is a revelation in the lead role, alongside a thoroughly uncomfortable Jamie Dornan and a galaxy of supporting performers who barely make an impact.
It’s not going to move mountains or be considered high art, but Fifty Shades of Grey could’ve been so much worse.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.