One might have hoped that by the recruitment of Goldsmiths alumna Sam Taylor-Johnson as director, the cinematic adaptation of the inexplicably popular novel Fifty Shades of Grey might gain some much needed credibility.
Unfortunately for Taylor-Johnson, it seems E.L. James has been victorious in her insistence that the cringe-inducing dialogue of the novel be adhered to. And yes, it’s even more stomach-churning hearing it out loud. On the plus side, the audience’s collective awkwardness at hearing Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey utter the line “I don’t make love. I fuck, hard.” is a hilarious thing to behold.
While Fifty Shades of Grey may have terrible dialogue in common with actual pornography, the similarities end there. If you’re hoping to see pornography in a socially acceptable setting, you will be sorely disappointed. The sex scenes are beyond tame, you will not see so much as a glimpse of Christian Grey’s “considerable length”. The realisation many viewers will surely have is that once you remove the graphic detail of the book, what remains is at best, another predictable romance, and at worst, a tale of domestic abuse thinly veiled by excessive displays of wealth.
It appears Sam Taylor-Johnson has shied away from potential controversy by glossing over the nastier aspects of Christian Grey’s character. His controlling behaviours regarding Anastasia’s diet, exercise and personal grooming are all but omitted from the screen version. The other factor that downplays the level of Christian’s coercive influence over Anastasia is the fact that, in the film, we are no longer a party to Anastasia’s inner monologue. While consensual BDSM can in no way be considered abusive, what is evident in the novel through this inner monologue is the fact that Anastasia consents to these activities largely out of a fear of losing Christian; she cannot understand his pleasure in inflicting pain upon her. The film, therefore, becomes less overtly problematic than the novel in that the relationship it portrays is much less abusive. Regrettably, this shift in the dynamic of the plot leads it to fall flat, and comes across as a somewhat cowardly move on the part of the director.
What also becomes evident while watching the film is that very little actually happens. Many readers of the book might not have noticed this while flicking through the pages between the sex scenes, but in the film adaptation the thin storyline has nowhere to hide. In short, unless you are sufficiently entertained by objectifying Jamie Dornan, you will not find much to enjoy about this film.