Heidi Rice talks about Fifty Shades of Grey's new star Jamie Dornan - a man brave enough to get his kit off in front of millions of cinemagoers (mostly female!) and why she enjoyed him and the rest of Fifty Shades of Grey movie so much.
So picture the scene, it's Friday 13th February, my bessie romance-writing mate and I are sitting in an Islington cinema with about 200 women of all ages (and a few brave boyfriends) ready to see the much talked about... And much maligned new movie version of EL James erotic bestseller...
Ok hold that thought. Because before I go any further I want to say this is IMHO a critic proof movie, in the sense that the people (mostly women I will admit) who loved the book and who found the characters of billionaire dominant Christian Grey and virginal English lit student Anatasia Steele compelling will be looking for something very different in this movie than those people who didn't.
I'm not saying those people and their opinions don't count (after all, some of them may still love this movie!). And if you pay money for a movie you're entitled to enjoy it. And to have an opinion if you don't. But frankly, I'm not really interested in their opinion - and that includes you, snide critic from The New Yorker - and I'm not really interested in all the value judgements people want to make about the people that enjoyed the books and/or enjoyed the movie. Because frankly, life's way too short to have to justify what you enjoy watching / reading / playing etc for your own entertainment (as long as it's legal, obviously).
So back to myself and my fellow romance writer and FSOG fan in that cinema in Islington? Did we enjoy the experience...? Well we had high expectations, and they were (actually quite surprisingly) not disappointed. We were thoroughly entertained.
So why were we so surprised?
Well, this is a romance people, and the difficulty with bringing a romance to the screen (and why so few of them are) is that it's not plot led, the key points of the story go on inside the characters heads. How do you convey that on screen? That was Sam Taylor Johnson's challenge and the challenge for the two leading actors - Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson and they rose to it admirably (no pun intended there, folks)... They took it seriously enough to make the characters live but at the same time not so seriously that it became heavy or overly dramatic (or dare I say, cheesy). That's a very hard trick to pull off, but they did it. The end result is a slick, sexy, entertaining, romantic fantasy, which also manages to be witty and self aware.
And why were we so entertained?
I thought Dakota Johnson captured the intrigued, curious, smart and increasingly empowered Ana beautifully. She's sassy, she's witty, and she's also incredibly sweet. While Jamie Dornan brought a boyish vulnerability to the enigmatic and ultimately extremely f****d up Christian. They have a lot of on-screen chemistry and the sex scenes are erotic without being explicit (well, not more explicit than an 18 rating).
Now a lot of people have slammed the BDSM elements in the books and the film as being anti-women... And yet the extreme misogyny in say a film like Inherent Vice is passed off as what? Artistic license... But I digress, the point surely is that both films are fiction.
The difference with FSOG is that this is a story told from a female perspective, it's a story made to turn women on (and has in droves) and it understands that just as there is a difference between women's 'rape fantasies' and actual rape (go grab yourselves a copy of Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden if you don't know what this is), there is also a difference between the depiction of a real BDSM relationship and what is depicted here - a fictional BDSM relationship which Christian demands because he is scared of intimacy and cannot bear to be touched and which Ana confronts head on firstly because she is falling for him, but also because it actually turns her on! And yes, people, the readers of FSOG and fans of this movie do actually know that it's fiction and not reality. Amazing isn't it!
James's book took these characters more seriously, but really you couldn't do that in a movie - a book is an intimate and personal experience for a reader - a movie is not because you're viewing it with loads of other bods, most of whom you don't know from Adam. Luckily, the movie's playfulness not just with the characters but also with the book's iconography admirably help it get over that hump. And explain why there was a round of applause when Christian first appeared and a lot of laughs when he said 'Laters Baby' for the first time...!
But anyway, in both the book and the movie it's the romance - the journey of Christian and Ana's relationship (not all of which is romantic BTW) that's driving the story. Not the sex. The sex is like the action scenes in a James Bond movie, it's important to the story only in so far as this is where the relationship changes in some way...
That said, this is supposed to be a sexy movie and what I loved was the eroticism and playfulness in the sex scenes. There is one particular scene where Christian spanks Ana, but it's very clear that they are both getting off on the moment. There's also the witty sexy scene when they are negotiating the notorious 'contract' - when Dakota's Ana is both naive and bold while Dornan's Christian is both frustrated and captivated.
Not at all playful is the scene at the end of the film.... Again, the actors and the filmmakers got this scene exactly right (for me).. Even though Ana consents beforehand, in fact encourages it, because she is curious to know exactly how far Christian 'wants' to go, and doesn't use her 'safe word' during the incident which would have ended it, there's no doubt that she is a victim here...
The scene is dark, it's disturbing, it's not sexy. Christian goes way too far and Ana confronts him and walks out on him...
If this were real would we still consider him to be a romantic character?
Um no, we wouldn't.
But if James Bond were real would we still consider him a hero after he had shot, garrotted, stabbed, blown up, etc a load of living breathing actual people? Oh, but wait a minute... It's not real. We can handle the fact that JB is a mass murderer because we know he is a good guy who has to kill all those people to get that ticking time bomb out of the Houses of Parliament (or whatever)...
Just like we can handle what Christian does to Ana because she stands up to him, and because this is going to reveal something to her that will eventually make him much more vulnerable than she is. And if you love romance it's those essential pivotal turning points in a relationship, the moments when your hero or heroine is forced to confront or reveal their greatest fears/or inner conflicts and vulnerabilities that is the vicarious pleasure you seek.
If you don't 'get' that, if that's not a vicarious pleasure for you, you're probably not going to enjoy this movie the way I did... But if you did, you just might be one of the people clapping at the end with a great big smile on your face thinking what a great job Jamie Dornan did as Christian Grey and how you can't wait to see the next film, instead of yawning... Or cursing, Or running to FB to say what exploitative, disturbing crap you thought it was!
Have you seen #50ShadesofGrey yet? Did you enjoy it, or are you firmly in the anti camp?
Heidi Rice is the author of fifteen series books for Harlequin Mills and Boon and two Cosmo Red Hot Read, the latest of which is a red hot tale of naughty sex, not-so-white lies and Twitter etiquette:
After a nasty breakup, Tally Gladstone has no interest in anything serious. But she's dipped her wary toe back into dating with a few blind dates—all bad…or worse. The only good thing to come out of it is a sizable following on social media. Her latest date is doomed from the get-go—he isn't even straight. But at least he knows someone who meets her every very exacting wiish.
American-in-London Brent O'Neill is everything she wants—on paper. He's hot, sexy and emotionally off-limits. Tally can play all she likes without getting burned. He's so good in bed he's addictive. But her millions of social media followers want disaster, not boring-ever-after. They might get their way yet—how is she going to walk away before her heart is in tatters?