Private Viewing: Fifty Shades movie whips up a storm at the UK box office

Fifty Shades of Grey. Pictured: Dakota Johnson as Anastasia "Ana" Steele and Jamie Dornan as Christi

Fifty Shades of Grey. Pictured: Dakota Johnson as Anastasia "Ana" Steele and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey - Credit: PA

It would have come as no surprise that the biggest film of last week was the eagerly awaited Fifty Shades of Grey – the supposedly sexually adventurous tale of a young literature student who falls for a dominating and demanding billionaire Christian Grey.

The Duke of Burgundy, an independent arthouse movie, that explores the dark desires which fuel a dom

The Duke of Burgundy, an independent arthouse movie, that explores the dark desires which fuel a dominating-submissive relationship. - Credit: Archant

However, what has raised a few eyebrows was the sheer scale of its success. The soft-focus sex scenes and the nudity would have been taken for granted but the fact that over the space of three days it became the biggest grossing 18 certificate movie in UK box office history, has left many cultural commentators scratching their heads.

From Friday to Sunday it raked in a staggering £13.2 million which means that each cinema showing grossed an eye-watering £23,000. It claimed 58% of all ticket sales over the weekend. Its closest rival in the 18 certificate stakes, and the previous record holder, was Ridley Scott’s 2001 Silence of the Lambs prequel, Hannibal, starring Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore, which took £6.4 million on its opening weekend.

It is generally understood that Hollywood doesn’t like to make 18 certificate films because it restricts the potential audience. Teenagers outstrip adult audiences at mainstream multiplexes these days and consequently 18 certificate films are now a rarity and generally the preserve of arthouse cinemas.

However, Fifty Shades of Grey appears to be rewriting the rule book. Audience breakdown reports from leading cinema chains reveal that 80% of people who bought tickets were women and each purchaser bought on average three tickets which suggests plenty of group activity.

It also proves that the dismal reviews didn’t harm the film’s performance in the slightest. This to me is the most disheartening part of the weekend. It’s a pity that the object of their enthusiasm was not a better film.

Yes, I know the book was a phenomenon and would have guaranteed a certain level of interest but not on this scale.

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Many critics feel that the book’s author EL James has held too much sway. She apparently vetoed many of the improvements that British director Sam Taylor-Johnson and Patrick Marber, her scriptwriter, wanted to make – including the inclusion of some much-needed naturalistic dialogue. James’ approach was compounded by the fact that studio bosses wanted a R (Restricted) rating in the States which is the equivalent to our 15.

The result is a film which is desperately in need of a strong story and some realistic characters. It’s also a movie which doesn’t have the courage of its own convictions. If you are dealing with a subject of bondage and consensual sexual domination you need to show the reality, you have to make an attempt to enter that world, to deal with the psychological issues, rather than merely recreate a 1990s Madonna video – which is what this film does.

Fifty Shades could have been a really interesting film. It could have developed our understanding of why some people find these relationships sexually fulfilling. What is it about that sense of danger that so turns them on?

Sadly, we get none of this. There’s no substance to the film. If anyone seriously wants to get to grips with this dark, intriguing world then I suggest they grab a DVD of Steven Shainberg’s 2002 film Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader which covers the same ground in a much more meaningful way – as does the newly released Duke of Burgundy which plays at the IFT in March.

The Duke of Burgundy, written and directed by Peter Strickland, the auteur behind the critically acclaimed Berberian Sound Studio, delves into the dark recesses of human desire while managing to avoid judging characters who on the surface are normal enough to be your next door neighbours.

The film has the nerve to say: ‘would we judge, if we truly understood the desires which fuel, these incredibly honest relationships?”

I don’t know if I would dash out to buy a dog leash and a set of handcuffs but a sensible exploration of that lifestyle populated with believable characters makes for a far more satisfying night at the cinema.

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