The first time I got wind of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena was reading a review on the trilogy in a newspaper in 2013. The reviewer broached the topic of BDSM in a very visual manner, referred to it as heinous and anti-women as it delves into a taboo lifestyle. E L James was lambasted for her pathetic writing, mediocre characters, and mainly for the audacity to conjure up a trilogy of drivel not worth wasting precious time reading!
At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to it, but what intrigued me was the amount of women reading these books and raving about them to their friends. All of a sudden, everywhere you went, conversations were dominated by this obsession taking the world by storm. I couldn’t ignore these books any longer as it slowly piqued my interest, convincing me I had to read it, if only to find out what all the hype was about and come to my own conclusion without sailing with the masses.
So I sneaked into a book store and bought the first book, knowing fully well it was a trilogy – I kind of figured if I didn’t like it, I would’ve saved myself some cash! I set forth on my FSOG journey in December 2013 and from the moment I curled up with the book, I was mesmerized by the story unfolding before my eyes. I was introduced to Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey and the electricity between them was intoxicating, it felt as if I was their best friend and had front row seats into their love story. The manner in which E L James wrote these steamy books, the knack she has of capturing the readers’ attention from the first page to the last, was mind boggling. I couldn’t put this book down and when I had to pull myself away from it because my own life got in the way of my reading pleasure, it was against my will – and even though the book wasn’t in my hands, the characters shenanigans were swirling around in my mind all day, setting off a giggle within me, much to my delight. I read the book way too swiftly and as the denouement approached late into the night, I was left reeling with despair, desperately in need of the second book, which I didn’t have! I was a mess and didn’t sleep much that night, my fix of FSOG out of reach.
Without fail, I got my grubby paws on the second and third books, feeding my obsession, much to the delight of the FSOG monster lurking inside me. The second book pulled me in deeper, gripped me with drama, toyed with my emotions and had me rallying around the protagonist and antagonist, not wanting anything untoward coming their way. Clutching the third and final book, I was reading it at a snail’s pace, for I knew the end was nigh and I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with this. I sunk into book depression for a long time, sulking as I wasn’t ready to let go of Anastasia and Christian and I didn’t want to deal with my own mundane reality without my escapism. Every book I skimmed seemed sadly lacking, unappealing and utterly dreary to say the least.
I joined the FSOG revolution, sharing my views with the masses, loaning my books to my friends, becoming the unofficial ambassador of E L James. When I learnt via the grapevine that a movie was in the pipeline, I was buzzing with excitement, trawling the internet, curious to find out who would take on these epic roles. I trailed the leads like Sherlock Holmes and when news broke that Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan were the lucky contenders – I had mixed emotions. I could visualize Dakota Johnson taking on the innocent Anastasia (heck she even looked like her) but I struggled with the physical appearance of Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. As a matter of fact, I was outraged like the rest of the world as he’s a pivotal character and if they didn’t find the right actor, the movie was bound to flop.
As expected, the powers that be didn’t take my opinion into account and the movie was made, trailers were released and I was still petulant over Jamie Dornan! To me, Christian Grey was this drop-dead gorgeous, enigmatic, arrogant, God’s gift to women kind of guy. In my imagination, he was picture perfect, alive and kicking, but in the real world, suitable contenders were hard to come by and I presume this is how it must have been for the Director and E L James when casting began.
As the release date was announced and the countdown began, I was bubbling with excitement. I requested Neil to pre-book tickets for us on Valentine’s day as I didn’t want to view it on opening night. When the most romantic day of the year eventually rolled around, I couldn’t believe the moment had finally arrived to view the movie adaptation of the books. Seated in the cinema with the rest of the movie-goers, the anticipation in the air was palpable. I was munching on popcorn during the attractions, but once the movie commenced, I pushed everything aside and sat transfixed to the screen for the duration thereof. I have a confession to make – I watched the movie twice! The reason for this is that the first time around, I found myself comparing the movie to the books and my expectations were floating in the clouds, whilst the second time around, I was able to focus on the movie instead, without bringing along my excess baggage. To all the FSOG fans out there, I highly recommend you do the same for I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t mind and would love watching it again!
I found the movie gripping, from the first scene to the shocking last. It crystalized the remarkable love story between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Seeing Dakota Johnson on the big screen was like watching Anastasia come to life before my eyes, it was if she was born to play this role and portrayed it to perfection. From her blue-eyed doe look, naiveté, her uncertainty in being thrust into a world she has never experienced before but chooses to follow to please the man she is falling in love with. For her to take on this major role and concede to the nude scenes must have been an incredibly tough decision to make, but one she embraced beautifully on screen. Her performance is Oscar worthy in my eyes for she stole the limelight and sparkled on the big screen. Her youthfulness and infectious laughter in the Charlie Tango ride as well as the glider scene, warmed my heart and left me with a broad smile.
However, Jamie Dornan upset my cart for a while in the movie. My subconscious kept reminding me he wasn’t the right actor for the role, she blamed it on his hair, his swagger, his shortness, everything she could find wrong with him, she threw at me! But what she couldn’t dissuade me from was his acting capacity. He played Christian Grey to the T, encapsulating all his mannerisms, his penetrating stare, his confidence, even his playfulness. Even though he might not have been my choice to play this role, his acting was brilliant and I grew fond of him, slowing resurrecting Christian, despite my subconscious’ misgivings.
The cinematography in the movie was breath-taking. Each scene was beautifully shot, capturing the highlights of the book and bringing to life Seattle, Portland and Georgia. The “playroom” was exactly as I envisioned it and I could tell they shot this with precision. I had a stab of disappointment viewing Christian’s penthouse as I had high hopes of it, which didn’t do the books justice. The sex scenes were tastefully shot, exquisitely detailed and not trashy in the least. The soundtrack blew me away and fit every scene marvellously, my favourite being Sia “Love me like you do” as Anastasia and Christian fly over the twinkling lights of the Seattle night sky – a goose bump moment:-).
Now comes the moment of truth, what was my view on the movie as opposed to the books?
Well, I thought the movie was great and I thoroughly enjoyed it more the second time around when I left my book critic at home, revelling in the movie adaptation. Some of the scenes were changed in the movie, and initially it bothered me, but later I found I rather enjoyed them and felt it added flavour to the story and spiced up the playfulness between the characters. The denouement was expected and I’m happy they didn’t change that for I believe it’s a pivotal part of the book and appeased me in some way. I believe the books deserved to be captured in a movie and the adaptation worked well and gave readers something to look forward to since E L James hasn’t released any other work and readers were becoming restless. With that said, I believe movies can never truly capture the full essence of a book and in time they become forgettable and we struggle to remember what drew us to it in the first place.
Books on the other hand are an intimate and personal experience for the reader. I felt this so strongly reading FSOG the first time around and my views were cemented when I gave it a bash the second time. E L James stumbled on a winning formula, she brought to life characters we couldn’t live without and a love story we didn’t want to end. The story from Anastasia’s point of view pulled us into a world unbeknownst to us as well and kept the sexual escapades within minimum limits of BDSM, affording women the benefit of the doubt to realise it was pure fiction and the only loss of control they would feel was within their imagination.
FSOG are the first books E L James has written, they became the fastest selling books in history, making her the highest-earning author on the Forbes list in 2014. It has catapulted her as one of the most influential authors in the literary world, despite critics slamming her writing, she has flung the doors of erotic writing open and chiselled a niche for it. As a romance writer myself, she has afforded me the opportunity to set free my imagination, to allow my passion to soar to new heights in a genre bursting within my soul. She has found a way of giving women exactly what they were yearning for, for so long, an unconventional love story with unforgettable characters, setting ablaze their sexual fantasies and affording them the clout and freedom of choosing their reading pleasure without feeling an inkling of guilt!