(Paris-AFP) – “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the long-anticipated movie version of the bestselling erotic novel, began its worldwide rollout on Wednesday, with sex-savvy France one of the first to catch a glimpse.
The film, starring Jamie Dornan as a billionaire with a penchant for S&M and Dakota Johnson as a virginal student who falls under his sway, is being marketed as a torrid touchstone for a generation too young to remember “Nine and a Half Weeks” or “Last Tango in Paris”.
The “premiere” of the film was to take place late Wednesday at the Berlin film festival, with the cast — hours after the movie opened to the public in theatres across France, Germany, Belgium, Serbia and the Philippines.
Unusually, the studio bringing it out, Universal Pictures, did not allow reviewers to see the film until the last minute. That fuelled rumours of trouble on set caused by the two lead actors detesting each other, and female director Sam Taylor-Johnson and the book’s British author E.L. James arguing over how scenes should be shot.
– Tens of millions of fans –
The tens of millions of hardcore fans of the 2011 novel and its two sequels will no doubt crowd the opening days of the movie’s showing, ignoring once again the critics who have rubbished the story as dull and thin of plot.
The story focuses on Christian Grey, who despite his 27 years is accomplished in a staggering number of fields.
He is a billionaire tycoon at the head of a sprawling empire that boasts his name, an athletic kickboxer, a deft helicopter pilot, a virtuoso pianist. And of course, he is extraordinarily handsome. The dark secret he carries is a penchant for sadistic-style sex.
Dornan, a 32-year-old married British actor and former male model, picked up the leading role after the first choice, fellow Brit actor Charlie Hunnam, who stars in the US television series “Sons of Anarchy”, dropped out.
Dornan’s co-lead, as the shy literature student Anastasia Steele who ultimately proves to be Grey’s sexual equal and succour, is Johnson, the 25-year-old daughter of actress Melanie Griffith and “Miami Vice” actor Don Johnson.
“At heart, it’s a simple love story,” novelist James said of her story, which has sold 100 million copies internationally. “The sex scenes made headlines, but it’s the love story that touched the readers.”
Although the movie bares flesh and suggests the rough bondage, it limits to 20 minutes the screen time of the sex-play and aims for scenes that are more aesthetically composed than graphic.
Yet cliches of ice cubes and feathers brushed over skin and the hints of more happening off-camera have still earned the movie an R rating in the US and in the Philippines (where some sex scenes were reportedly censored), barring under-18s from seeing it.
In France, where much racier fare is common on the big screen, “Fifty Shades of Grey” copped a more moderate -12 rating, meaning children aged under 12 are not admitted.
– DIY bondage –
With so much attention on the film, some groups against domestic violence have urged a boycott, arguing that it glamorises the abuse of women. One such association is calling itself “Fifty Shades is Domestic Abuse”, British media reported.
But those groups are being rivalled by others keen to cash in on what is hoped to be a boom in tie-me-up eroticism — all in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day this weekend.
“‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was the most influential cultural phenomenon for sex toys’ sales that I’ve seen,” said Claire Cavanah, co-founder of a US sex accessories shopping chain called Babeland. Her company has added 20 specially branded “Fifty Shades” items.
American shoppers will also elsewhere be able to buy “Fifty Shades of Grey” wine, licenced lingerie — and even a teddy bear with handcuffs.
In Britain, a leaked memo to a chain of 359 hardware stores, B&Q, said copies of the sexy book would be delivered to prepare its 20,000 staff for an expected onslaught of customers looking to recreate some of the bondage scenes.
It highlighted a moment in the movie when Christian Grey shops for suitable ropes, plastic cable ties and tape in a hardware store. “We stock many of the products featured in this notable scene,” the memo said, predicting that “extra stock” would be required to cope with increased demand.
Though it remains to be seen if the success of the “Grey” franchise will endure, MTV reported on its website last week that moves are already under way to turn the two sequels of the book into films. The future is Grey, indeed.