The Perils of Seeing Fifty Shades of Grey…Alone…in the UK

In Discussion by Roger Tagholm

Our very proper UK correspondent attends a morning screening of Fifty Shades of Grey alone and finds he is more red-cheeked than the characters on-screen.

By Roger Tagholm

Roger Tagholm

Roger Tagholm, not Christian Grey (sorry, ladies…)

Oh God, the shame of it. It’s 11.40am on Friday morning and I’m in the local multiplex, by myself, to watch Fifty Shades. 11.40am!! This is surely the porno slot. What if I see someone I know? “Oh hi! Just popped in for a coffee! Really like the way they do it here….” My wife suggested a disguise. Maybe one of the wigs we bought for a fancy dress 70s disco party? I could go into the cinema looking like Michael Jackson from the Jackson Five era. Maybe not. With the book, it was easy. On an e-reader no one knew what you were reading. That’s an idea – perhaps I could strap Kindles to either side of my head…

No, I’ll brave it au naturel (not like that!). Mind you, if I do see someone I know, it would lead to: wait a minute, what are they doing here at this hour? Then we might have to pretend not to see each other. Yet then we would both know that we had each discovered a dark secret about the other. This is turning into a nightmare.

11.50 — OK, phew, so there’s no one here in the lobby that I know. I jocularly tell the girl tearing the tickets that I’m here to write a piece about “that film.” I don’t need to do this and have now drawn attention to myself. She smiles and says, “Er OK,” but inside I’m sure she’s thinking “Freak freak, pervy single guy. If he keeps talking like this I’m calling security.” Then she asks me to wait because they’re not ready yet. Oh God – you know what that means. How to phrase this? I’ve come too early…

Noon — There’s no one I know in the cinema itself either. Big relief. In fact, there are only four other people. Two women together, two women by themselves and one solitary guy. Percentages that probably reflect the gender readership. Let’s not forget, there’s a book (books) behind this. Worldwide sales are 100m and counting. This film is the biggest ‘literary’ tie-in (tie being the operative word) since The Da Vinci Code.

12:05 — So the lights are going down now. Going down! God, I’ve entered (entered!) smutty linguistic hell. Everything has a double entendre. It’s temporarily like being a talk show host. The UK’s Graham Norton sees everything this way, and in the States when Jamie Dornan, who plays Christian Grey, was on the Jimmy Fallon show recently, there was a funny segment in which he had to read lines from the book in different accents. One came up on screen and he said: “It’s too long….” To which Fallon gave a knowing grin and said, “Listen, you can’t say things like that….”.

12:10 — And we’re off. Do you want a blow-by-blow account (stop that giggling at the back)? Well, it’s fair to say that Christian Grey has issues. For a start, why doesn’t he have any Taschen books on the coffee table in his swanky, Dubai-style, roof-top Seattle apartment? He could clearly afford to buy Taschen. Its famous ‘art porn’ would fit in nicely. In truth, there are two books on the coffee table and it’s frustrating that we never get to see what these are. 

We do get to see some first edition hardbacks of Thomas Hardy, which he buys Ana, but I cannot quite remember the publisher, although we do see the title page. In the novel these are bought in The Paper Hound in Vancouver, although that doesn’t seem to appear in the film (unless I was making notes and missed it).

12:20 — We’re in Christian Grey’s apartment in Seattle. He’s telling Anna that she’ll have to sign an NDA. What? Has he just done a deal with Amazon?

12:25 — Christian says he has a “sexuality more rough than the average man.” Actually, he doesn’t say this. That quote is from Dominique Strauss Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, in court in Lille, France last week. But we’re in the same vile area here. What Christian says is: “I don’t make love. I f*ck. Hard.” God, this is horrible. Isn’t there enough aggression in the world already? Yes, it seems he is damaged, that he was abused himself as a child, but this is unpleasant. 

12:30 — First mention of the “play room.” Yuk. Ana has the best line. “Is that where you keep your X-Box and stuff?” (Maybe his XXX-Box? Microsoft, are you listening?). Bawdy laughter from the two women down near the front of the cinema.

1:20 — He’s talking about “the contract” now. Maybe he has done a contract with Amazon after all. He’s the “Dominant.” She’s the “Submissive.” It’s all what she will/what she won’t agree to. Genital clamps. Getting rid of DRM. Suspension by ropes. Spot the odd one out. Can you believe this film has been rated 12 in France? In the UK, it’s an 18. Bon chance, mes amis in explaining all of this to your sons and daughters.

OK, so back home now, gathering my thoughts. Almost feel like I should take a shower. Thank goodness the novel was written by a woman, directed by a woman. It is very unpleasant to see Ana being hit. Yes, we’re in the realm of consensual and all of that; nonetheless, it is deeply unpleasant. And – spoiler alert – thank goodness Ana walks out on him. 

Admittedly, in between the uncomfortable “play room” scenes there is heaps of corn to enjoy: here’s Christian and Ana in his fancy car speeding into the countryside; here’s Christian and Ana in a helicopter; here’s Christian and Ana in a glider (where was “Windmills of Your Mind” – this was so Thomas Crown Affair).

But me? Boring British me? I’m just glad to get home and take the dog for a walk. No need to ask who the dominant one is in that relationship. “Yes, yes, calm down. I’ll be there in a sec. Let me get the lead…”

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).