And so, in the end, I went with my sister, Toni, to see Fifty Shades of Grey and we saw it at noon on Valentine’s Day at the Odeon in Muswell Hill. In the audience on that particular day at that particular time there were eight other women, all around our age, and all on their own. The Fifty Shades phenomenon has been described as ‘soft porn for middle-aged housewives’ and it’s said as an insult, but it sounds rather good to my sister and me. Indeed, after what feels like a lifetime of pairing socks and putting meals on the table and basically performing the role of main drudge at Drudge Central we feel we deserve a little soft porn and who knows, if we like it, we could work our way up to hard porn? My sister and I have never seen any hard porn, but as we understand it, a man comes round to deliver pizza and it all kicks off from there. Is that right? If so, what we’d most like to know is: afterwards, does he tidy up the empty boxes and put them out for recycling, or will he expect us to do it? It’s important that we’re told.
So this is where we are coming from, my sister and I, as we settle into our seats, while resolutely not making eye contact with any of the other women, as seems to be the form. The story, we now know, concerns a young lady, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who falls in love with a handsome billionaire (Jamie Dornan) who will prove sadistic, albeit lovingly so. They first meet when Anastasia is dispatched to interview him for her student newspaper but the big, clumsy chump — she trips over the threshold to his swish office, can you believe? — forgets to bring a pen and so he offers her one of his pencils. The pencil is shiny and sharp and has ‘Grey’ written down the side of it and she nibbles on the end, almost as if it were a penis, God forbid. Mr Grey then pursues Ms Steele, sending her first edition Thomas Hardy novels. Ms Steele is an English student and self-declared ‘book-lover’ and if there is one thing I will take away from this film — aside from ‘anal fisting’, which I had to look up, and made me quite nostalgic for the simple business of sock pairing — it’s that you don’t need to provide any evidence you are well read, or have even ever picked up a book, to self-declare yourself a ‘book-lover.’ If we had known this, my sister and I agree, we could have saved on reading many, many books over the years.
Ms Steele is sexually innocent; a virgin, in fact, and he takes her virginity in the regular way but does not use contraception, which horrified my sister, the mother of daughters. ‘Use a condom!’ she even shouted, out loud. The deal, as far as I could gather, then becomes as follows: he will teach her about sexual intimacy if she will teach him about emotional intimacy, which he cannot yet offer owing to back-story issues featuring a mother who was a prostitute and crack-fiend, the poor boy. Thus far, his coping mechanisms appear to have included learning to play the piano to an exceptionally high standard — often forlornly, late at night — piloting his own helicopter and developing a taste for bondage.
Mr Grey therefore introduces Ms Steele to his ‘Red Room’, equipped with whips and riding crops and where there is spanking and kissing her belly right down to her panties and yet, such is the lack of chemistry, and drama, all I was thinking was: who cleans this room? And also: do they do it properly, with rubber gloves and bleach? We see Anastasia’s breasts, and are awarded glimpses of her ‘noonie’, as it is known in our house, but nothing of Christian’s parts, which are kept off screen, so you have to imagine. (At our age!) I was willing to go with it, honestly, but was, in fact, most aroused by his walk-in wardrobe, which is just so marvellously ordered, with equidistant gaps between every hanging shirt. I would even agree to be ‘fisted’ for such a wardrobe; I truly would.
Fifty Shades, or even Fisty Shades, as I’m now minded to call it is, in effect, Mills & Boon trussed up with the promise of graphic sex, not that it ever materialises, but whether it serves as a playbook for manipulating vulnerable women into abusive relationships, as has been claimed, I don’t know. I can only say that boredom set in early during our time at the Odeon, Smugwell Hill, and as for afterwards, we visited the big Planet Organic next to the cinema where we gasped over the prices compared with Tesco (hummus! Twice as much!) and which, I think, proves what, deep down, I had suspected all along: some middle-aged housewives are not for turning. And, as for the pizza man, if he’s not going to take out the empty boxes, we’ll probably just skip it, if it’s all the same to you.