Romance writer Chloe Thurlow

Literary romance

Spanking and Bondage at a Cinema Near You

Christian Grey, billionaire, mysterious, sexy, suffered a childhood trauma and can only get off on spanking and bondage.

Anastasia Steele, virgin, falls for the billionaire, and is caught between Christian’s spanking fetish and her resistance to submission. She wants love. He ‘doesn’t do romance.’

Fifty Shades of Grey, EL James’s tale of BDSM and nouvelle erotica, has sold 100 million books, and revived the career of the Marquis de Sade. The long-awaited movie opened February 11th at the Berlin Film Festival and on cinema screens across the world this Valentine’s Day weekend.

I went with three friends on Friday 13th to the Curzon, Chelsea. We had all dressed in spiky heels, a coincidence, if there is such a thing. We drank champagne – one of the few cinemas in London catering for such extravagance – and were surprised on entering the auditorium that it was only one third full.

Of my friends, Gemma is a fan of Fifty Shades and all things spanking and bondage; Helen, a copyright lawyer, dropped the book in the bin on reading Christian Grey’s discipline contract (Anastasia says no to nipple clamps and has no idea what butt plugs are); and Bella has been too busy the last three years to read anything except Hello!

In a scene reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin, we open with Ana entering Christian’s office and falling over; cue laughter. She is there to conduct an interview for the college magazine and has forgotten her pencil; cue empathy. Ana is an English lit major. Christian guesses her passion is Thomas Hardy; cue a spike in sales for Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Ana gets drunk after her graduation. Christian rescues her from a swarthy photographer about to kiss those plump lips he will later tell her not to keep biting, and takes her to a hotel where they platonically sleep in the same bed – the first time he has ever shared a bed with a woman.

Christian pilots his own helicopter to take Ana for a flight over Seattle at night and Danny Elfman’s subtle score reminds us that at the grey heart of Fifty Shades, this is Romeo and Juliet for the sexting, nude-selfie, mommy-porn generation.

Spanking and Bondage on Screen

This was never going to be an easy film to make: too many expectations, censors and critics grinding the sharp edge of their knives. The opening montages are predictable, sometimes tedious. But that is not why audiences will go to see Fifty Shades of Grey. They will go to see how the scenes of spanking and bondage have been translated from the page to the screen – by all accounts with author EL James watching from the flaps.

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson was taking on a gargantuan task and has made the best film she could have made; perhaps the best film that could have been made from the source material. She navigates the script from Anastasia’s point of view and Dakota Johnson as Anastasia grows as the story unfolds. She conveys her desire to submit in Christian’s ‘red room of pain’ world, while retaining her inner strength of character; her disinclination to be dominated. She likes the sex (once Christian ‘rectifies’ the problem of her virginity). She isn’t into pain.

It is not easy to like Christian Grey. He’s too rich, too spoiled; it’s not easy to believe he is the orphaned son of a crack addict who became a sex-slave to an older woman at fifteen – thus his penchant for spanking and bondage. Is he really working on a business project to help feed the hungry in Africa? I do hope so.

Jamie Dornan, last seen as a serial killer in BBC2’s The Fall, makes a convincing, if slightly inanimate Christian Grey, but does perk up in the play room while threading red rope through metal rings to bind Ana for a thrashing, leisurely, softly-lit sequences that remind us that erotica’s purpose is not orgasm, but the suspension of orgasm.

Taylor-Johnson follows the simple rule: nudity is erotic, genitalia pornographic. The bondage scenes, elegantly shot by DP Seamus McGarvey, are intercut between racks of spanking devices and the naked Anastasia in a way that recalls Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Nicolas Roeg’s lovemaking/dressing montage in Don’t Look Now.

When Christian puts Ana over his knee and pulls down her white knickers to spank her bottom, it is merely playful. She squeals, less in pain than delight. But as the discipline gets more intense, so Ana’s misgivings grow until she decides, no more. Fade to black – look out for the sequel.

We had pizza at The Pheasantry and the girls gave their reviews:

  • Gemma 2** – not enough spanking and bondage
  • Hellen 2** – better than she hoped
  • Bella 3*** – watchable, a lot of fuss over a little spanking
  • Me – 4**** – the secret of a good movie is to take audiences into a world in which they are unfamiliar – and the film does exactly that.

Read Fifty Shades? Try another perspective with Katie in Love, my new novel, just out in paperback.

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