With all the hype and media coverage around Fifty Shades of Grey, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film when I walked into the cinema. The audience seemed to be made up of groups of girls wanting a laugh and couples hoping for a romantic night. Both I think would be disappointed. The film is certainly low on laughs, and the only romance it supplies is a perverted kind. Far from its marketing strategy as some kind of erotic, Twilight-esque fantasy, I found it rather sinister. The film deals with issues of control, child abuse and psychological manipulation. Could this be the same book which sold over 100 million copies and made erotic literature more acceptable in the public sphere? I haven’t read the book, but the films focus more on Christian and his desires, than any pleasure that Ana may be receiving. Their ‘contract’ of dominant and submissive leaves her looking like a victim rather than a willing participant. The line between real physical and emotional abuse and BDSM is badly drawn, leaving the viewer distinctly uncomfortable in several instances when this blurs.
Yet from its opening scenes you may be forgiven for thinking Fifty Shades was just another rom-com as we get a glimpse into the lives of our two main characters: Lit student Anna (played by Dakota Johnson) and business tycoon Christian (Jamie Dornan). Suitable shots of New York skyscrapers are used to set the scene, the only hint of things to come is that the sky is curiously dark. In fact the weather seems the only real emotional response to what is going on in the plot: sunless skies and heavy rainfall – hey, they could have set it in Scotland and saved on the special effects! As Ana is seduced by Christian into a relationship that abruptly turns controlling, the style of the film fails to change. As if finding out that someone has a torture dungeon is on the same level as going out for a coffee or to your parents’ house for dinner. Scenes of BDSM and Christian revealing his abusive childhood are ludicrously dispersed by director Sam Taylor-Johnson with light hearted scenes of Ana visiting her mum, or the couple going for a plane-driving date. Maybe this jollity was intended to alleviate the darkness, yet instead it makes the movie incredibly jarring to watch. This film is about as erotic as a butcher’s shop and as romantic as Poundland chocolates, leaving one asking – what the hell was the point?