Film Review: Fifty Shades of Grey
15th February 2015
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★★★★☆ There is a scene in BBC Two’s controversial and mesmerising drama The Fall where Jamie Dornan, in the role of serial killer Paul Spector, ties up a young student and binds her to a bed in a kinky sexual power game. He also discusses bondage with women and regularly likes to go running, grew up an orphan and had an abusive childhood. There are strange and uncomfortable parallels to his role in that exceptionally good television series and his lead turn in this adaptation of E.L. James erotic bestseller, but instead of seeming repetitive, Dornan’s talent as an actor allows him to position his character in a new range, offering a new set of complexities for the audience to untangle. Of course this is not all down to Dornan, superb though he is. Fifty Shades of Grey (the film) is, as a whole, as very good piece of work. It is classily directed by Turner Prize nominated artist Sam Taylor-Johnson. She wisely sidesteps any form of first-person narrative and allows us to observe our hero, English Literature student Anastasia Steele, rather than inhabit her head, as she navigates the tricky waters of dating a billionaire who enjoys slightly unusual activities in the bedroom (or rather, his Red Room of Pain). Screenwriter Kelly Marcel is also on the list of people we have to thank. This could have been awful. It could have been like a strange, sexually-charged episode of Waterloo Road, with horrifically clunky dialogue that nobody would ever say in real life. Thank goodness it isn’t. James’s book is, to put it nicely, a bit challenged when it comes to the prose used to tell its sultry story. Marcel, who wrote the wonderful film Saving Mr. Banks, has done an amazing job on the novel. She has filleted it, streamlined it, cut out the rubbish and all the annoying asides (‘Holy crap’, ‘My Inner Goddess’) and has made it into a story that feels real, involving real people we can actually believe in, real situations we could imagine (even if we don’t encounter them ourselves) and dialogue that doesn’t drop like a lead balloon. If there were an Oscar for ‘Best Improvement on Source Material’, this would win it. The character rehabilitation that Anastasia Steele has gone through is helped along by a spirited, fun, engaging and emotionally intuitive turn from Dakota Johnson (I’m not going to mention her family’s acting heritage....ok, I just did, but I’m not going to say anymore about it...just take a look on Wikipedia at who her parents are and, more importantly, who her grandmother is). Johnson’s honest performance has been well pitched so as to be true to the Anastasia of the book whilst stripping her of all her silliness. The result is a central hero who is easy to like and a joy to watch.
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