Ode to the Original Mr Grey

I’ve always believed that the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey books can be attributed to the character of Christian Grey. For me the the appeal of the trilogy is less about the BDSM and more about the rehearsal of an established female fantasy: a fabulously wealthy, enigmatic older man finding redemption from his past misdemeanours by falling in love with a much younger, poorer and virginal girl.

In other words, Fifty Shades of Grey is like a Mills & Boon romance novel with butt-plugs and bondage tape.

Anastasia Steel is the lucky girl that women across the world love to identify with. We all desire attention and the arousing prospect of a ripped billionaire choosing us above all others to lavish his attentions and perversions upon was guaranteed to get us wet. Even though he seemed like a stalker sometimes.

My personal investment in the allure of Mr Grey fell sharply when Jamie Dornan was cast to play him in the film adaptation of the first book in the trilogy. Although Mr Dornan is a talented actor, serious eye-candy and seems shy in interviews there is a problem. The lack of sexual chemistry between himself and Dakota Johnson, playing Anastasia, killed the fantasy on film for me.

Christian will never be my idolised Mr Grey.

There is another Mr Grey who makes my pulse race. I’m referring to E. Edward Grey, the protagonist, from the film Secretary as played by the wonderful James Spader. I find it hard to believe that the film, based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill, was released way back in 2002. The director, Steven Shainberg, had originally cast Gwyneth Paltrow in the role of the submissive young woman Lee Holloway but her replacement, Maggie Gyllenhaal, had such incredible chemistry with Spader that it puts Fifty Shades to shame.

E. Edward Grey shares Christian’s surname and the fact that he is a dominant. In all other respects he is vastly different. When we see him for the first time, he is sat behind his desk in an office that has seemingly been wrecked. Lee Holloway, an applicant for the position of Mr Grey’s new secretary has arrived for her interview just after seeing the hasty departure of her tearful predescessor. This Mr Grey is anxious, guilt-ridden and vulnerable. He doesn’t give the appearance of being a highly regarded attorney at all.

My favourite Mr Grey moment occurs when he tells Lee to leave work early so that she can walk home “like a big girl”. This is instead of being dropped off in the morning and picked up in the evening by her over-protective mother. It is because her employer has given her permission to stroll through a park like an adult that she takes such perverse pleasure in doing so. It is only after she has become an independent woman that the real games can begin between them. The only scene in Fifty Shades of Grey that comes close to this is the helicopter ride. It doesn’t get close enough for my tastes.

Instead of a chrome and glass high-rise tower, E.Edward Grey’s preferred habitat is his office space filled with vintage furniture, legal books and retro ornaments. A central component to the film, the working environment of Mr Grey and Lee, took form after two years of planning by the films director and production designer Amy Danger, who had collaborated with Shainberg on several projects. Danger said: All the materials I used [in the office] were natural: natural wood, bamboo, ironwork … If I wasn’t using natural materials, it was natural colors, like [in] the botanical wallpaper.” In contrast to the cutting- edge tech of Grey Industries, E.Edward doesn’t allow computers preferring that Lee uses a manual typewriter for her work instead.

I love having old things around me. The world of Secretary with its alluring mahogany desks, clonking staplers and red pens fuels my fetish imagination. It’s no surprise then that Secretary is my favourite film. It imagines a world where BDSM can exist without the need for dungeons or any unnecessary paraphernalia.

Instead, it relies upon the seductiveness of perversely imaginative mental connection and shared humor. Secretary is not about sex scenes or nudity.

Its a twisted love story with spelling mistakes and spanking.

When Maggie Gyllenhaal was asked about the film she said that she gets: ‘flushed and funny every time I talk about the movie’

I’m not surprised.

E. Edward is the only Mr Grey on film that really matters even though we never discover what the E. stands for.

That little detail turns me on most of all.

This post is also available in: Spanish

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