Fifty Shades Darker

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Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Fifty Shades Darker
"Fifty Shades is rapidly becoming a modern erotic version of Dallas."

Fifty Shades Darker? Nah: Fifty Shades Lighter, more like. But the Fifty Shades franchise depends on, is virtually defined by the premise that we have been reading - and now viewing - the ultimate in transgressive naughtiness. So the trick is not to persuade the world that the Devil “does not exist” but rather to persuade the easily outraged not only that he does, but that he is become flesh in this slightest of slight erotic presentations.

Fifty Shades Darker is sequel to Fifty Shades Of Grey, and sits mid-trilogy: the third and final film, if faithful to its literary underpinning, will be Fifty Shades Freed. The first film introduced the apparently doomed romance of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dorman). She is fresh-faced, innocent lamb to the slaughter; he is just another ordinary everyday billionaire, with a penchant for kinky sex, aka bdsm (of which more later) and a clearly unhealthy attitude to dating, of which stalking and control issues are just the beginning.

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Christian introduces Ana to the “joys” of bondage and erotic spanking. Ana responds with doe-eyed innocence: “Oh, Sir Jasper! How could you?”, she cries, simultaneously licking her lips and dropping her knickers – or allowing Christian to remove them slowly, teasingly with astonishing regularity. All comes crashing down, though as Christian reveals his end game: a desire that Ana enter into a “slave contract” with him, and Ana deciding this is one step too far and walking out.

The first half hour or so of Fifty Shades Darker therefore involves Christian locating Ana once more and after some posh nosh and a bit more lip-biting, Ana agreeing to try again. Sans contract. There follows a simplistic parade of almost every erotic cliché in the book, as Christian introduces Ana to his silver “sex balls” (don't ask!), nipple clamps and leg spreaders, orders Ana to remove her knickers in the middle of a high-class restaurant, and then proceeds to toy with her (really, really don't ask!) in the middle of a crowded lift.

There is plenty more lip-licking by Ana, who continues to protest throughout that she doesn't know how to give him what he wants, while doing precisely that and enjoying herself thoroughly along the way. Because unlike the first in the series, the action in Fifty Shades Darker is entirely consensual: kinky but, as Ana jokes at various points along the way, thoroughly “vanilla” in content.

Which may shock those who protest the film's very existence, but is a point not lost on the trilogy's almost entirely female fanbase. For this is sex between a young woman and a fit guy, who appears to treat every encounter as an opportunity to provide his partner with multiple orgasms. What's not to like?

And while the apparatus employed may be a tad exotic, it is little more than what can be purchased in an upmarket version of Ann Summers.

The first half hour or so of the film is not promising. All that sex. All those orgasms, driven along by a thumping, modern soundtrack – including I Don't Want To Live Together by Zayn and Taylor Swift.

Then it starts to develop a plot, of sorts, and therefore becomes slightly more interesting. Three characters are introduced: Ana's egotistical and stalkerish boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson): Christian's jealous former submissive, Leila (Bella Heathcote); and Christian's equally jealous former Mistress, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), whose casting appears to be an ironic nod to her long ago role as a submissive to Mickey Rourke's dom in the similarly transgressive 1986 film, Nine And A Half Weeks.

All have motive to seek revenge and when an accident - or is it? - takes place, the stage is set for further denouement in the final instalment. Fifty Shades is rapidly becoming a modern erotic version of Dallas – with Christian occupying the role of the much troubled JR.

In the end, it's not a bad film, though as I have previously written at length about the bdsm community, some comment on the kink content. Detractors have been quick to denounce the film's perverse sexuality. The real issue, though, is that the Fifty Shades has little in common with “real kink”/bdsm community.

The latter is confusing enough: “bd” stands for “bondage and domination”; but the bdsm community decode the last two initials either as ”sadism-masochism” or “slave-master”. Christian seems happy for his sexual encounters to include bd elements: but his grasp of sm – particularly the strict protocols that someone of his alleged experience might be expected to have mastered – is confused and confusing. Is he into mastery (as the contract arrangement of episode one suggested)? Or is he a simple sadist, as this latest film claims?

And then there is the equally clichéd back story: that he is the way he is because of a bad/abusive mother. This enraged both feminists and bdsm practitioners in equal measure: the first for the inherent victim-blaming; the second because – here we go again – it implies that you can't possibly be into bdsm unless you are damaged in some way!

The problem here, of course, is that the entire Fifty Shades edifice is based on novels by EL James, who claims to have no direct experience of bdsm. Ooops!

Many thanks to the independent Broadway Cinema Letchworth, without whom this review would not have been possible.

Reviewed on: 27 Feb 2017
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Fifty Shades Darker packshot
Christian and Ana decide to rekindle their relationship, except this time there are no more rules or punishments.

Director: James Foley

Writer: Niall Leonard, based on the book by EL James

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora

Year: 2017

Runtime: 118 minutes

Country: US

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