Fifty Shades Of Grey - Blu-ray Review

'the problem is that the story, and probably the film, wants to have its cake and spank it'

We know that it is perfectly possible for great books to be made into mediocre films (cough, The Hobbit, cough) and, following an Aristotle-like logical leap, you would think therefore that poorly crafted novels could make significant films. The weakness or otherwise of E. L. James' Fifty Shades Of Grey series of books seems to have been a perfect storm towards Sam Taylor-Johnson's film adaptation, which, though never a significant work, is a way away from being terrible.

For a start, unlike vast swathes of contemporary films in the Romance genre, there is subtext here by the bucketload. James' story of a young woman (Dakota Johnson) attempting to break the chain of what could be read as abuse and misogyny that has ruled the relationships of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), can easily be read as something approaching a feminist metaphor. Anastasia (Johnson) battles for genuine love against Grey's predilection for his sexual gratification above all else. That his tastes have come from a history of abuse lend credence to the argument: Anastasia is not only trying to break free of her situation, but of situations both similar and different, past and present the world over. Is there good here somewhere? Love, able to break out from bravado, misogyny, misplaced masculinity?

Consider too the on-screen influences. This touches on the French folk tale Bluebeard, American Psycho, The Thomas Crown Affair and Carol's Alice In Wonderland; hardly the influences of a film aiming for mere fan fiction.

Of course, the problem is that the story, and probably the film, wants to have its cake and spank it. The sex scenes are dramatically unsexy, but you get the impression that that is more by accident than design (though you do wonder if Taylor-Johnson might be pushing against the narrative she has been given). Fifty Shades Of Grey seems to both want you to want a healthy on-screen relationship and delight at the unhealthy one it presents you with. Virginity, when it is raised, is discussed as if it is a war crime. The more you think about it, the more the dichotomy makes sense: this is a film that wants to push what some may consider a feminist message, adapted from a book that rides all over that very message.

Any chance Fifty Shades Of Grey had of being a genuinely good film (and there are those signs that this did have that chance) are crippled by the odd casting choices. Dornan and Johnson do well with the incredibly ripe dialogue, but neither really seems to be their character. Dornan is perhaps not far from being the Grey we see behind closed doors but in public his character becomes bland, rather than coldly imperious and his accent work is spotty. Johnson, meanwhile, doesn't seem to know who Anastasia is and who could blame her? Is she the clutzy young student who falls over at her first meeting, or the confident graduate that negotiates a contract later on (one of the better scenes)? Of course, she has been on something of a journey by that point, but it's a big change to sell in two hours and Johnson never manages it convincingly.

It's difficult to know whether this is success or failure. There are clear problems, perhaps first and foremost with the leads, who are on screen for pretty much the entire film, but that this film got even close to being something meaningful, from a source accepted as pulp at best, must be counted as an achievement. It's just not achievement enough to cover up the endemic problems with a narrative wrought with complex moral dilemmas.

Fifty Shades Of Grey is available on demand now. It is released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 22nd June.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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