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The 50 Shades film trailer shows us Grey's decor is almost as bad as his BDSM rope-work

Not only does the film look like a bunch of sexist tropes strung out in a row, but if Christian Grey's knots are anything to go by he's rubbish at kink as well.

If the trailer for 50 Shades of Grey is anything to go by, the film looks to be awful. From the offset, it’s packed with sexist film tropes and lazy stereotyping.

Dowdy brunette female protagonist? Check. Stylish, slim, blonde female secretary? Check. Smartly dressed man, his face hidden because it’s important that we immediately understand, as viewers, that looking at the women on screen is going to be far more important than looking at the men? Check.

The opening images we see of Christian Grey, the leading man, are as hilarious as they are unoriginal: with faceless cutaways, we are offered up his environment as clues as to what sort of man he might be. Big man, big office, big… desk. Voiceover saying he’s “intimidating”. Ooh, scary. We see a close up of his finger tapping on his desk. Such a powerful, impatient, dominant man, can’t possibly keep him waiting. Or maybe he just needs to pee?

Anastasia Steele, however, takes up little space, and meekly says “there’s really not much to know about me - look at me”. She’s not being self-deprecating, just self-critical - because all submissive women are like that, obviously. “I am,” he replies, staring at her - because clearly she can only be interesting if a man says so. And that surely is all a woman wants, right? To be seen as something attractive to a man.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We barely have time to explore the politics of on-screen gender representation because we immediately get thrown into a montage of exciting activity. Grey is in a photo shoot; wears expensive suits; gets driven around by a chauffeur; jumps in a helicopter; strides around a penthouse suites; plays a grand piano; pilots a two seater airplane. So much man. Wow. But there’s nothing transgressive in having wealth displayed as aspirational, and particularly in having a rich male character seducing a less-well off female one. It’s the premise of many a rom-com and of the book itself, but the trailer goes one step further: Grey’s opulence is seen as desirable, as wank-fodder for the viewer. It’s as if capitalism itself had ejaculated all over the screen.

And we haven’t even got to the fleeting sexy bits yet.

Set to a breathy remixed version of "Crazy In Love" (where Beyoncé sounds like a cat hacking up a particularly large fur ball) we see in the barely-kinky part of the trailer a series of brief shots, cut together in the hope of appearing tantalising - but watching it frame by frame (I did it so you don’t have to), they are painting by numbers. “My tastes are very singular”, Grey says, taking out a silk blindfold, because obviously that’s unique and unusual and nobody ever does that in bed. A moment later, it’s clear Ana can see out the bottom of the blindfold: not so much a BDSM fail, as incompatible with the character of Grey.

In addition, the rope work we momentarily glimpse is dreadful. You’d think the producers would hire a consultant to at least make it appear convincing; if a character is supposed to be a Big Bad Dominant, then at least make that look persuasive. The trailer really doesn’t bode well for the sexual content.

But, you see, it’s not about accuracy, it’s about fantasy. “I don’t do romance”, Grey says, as he slides his hand up under Ana’s skirt under the table. Apparently, sex and romance are incompatible, and only in films, where men are supposed to be rich and mean and bad boys who don’t want relationships, can women’s fantasies get truly satisfied. There’s nothing progressive about that. It’s not empowering. It’s not even authentic - those who enjoy BDSM have little hope that the film will represent kink in an accurate way.

Worse, though, this trailer offers an entirely unoriginal promise, one that just reinforces the status quo: women - find a rich man and you will have your fantasies fulfilled and discover true happiness. I have little doubt that this film will be successful at the box office, but I fear the impact it will have on how young women see their sexuality: if sexual contentment and wealth are always conflated, then we’re dooming a generation of women to disappointment - and of not having their sexual needs met.

Zoe Margolis is a journalist and writer, famed for writing the Girl With A One-Track Mind blog. You can find more information about her work, including on sexual health, at her website. She's on Twitter as @girlonetrack.

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Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett asks how we shape history and how much is beyond our control

In Wychwood, a great house in Oxfordshire, the wealthy build walls around themselves to keep out ugliness, poverty, political change. Or at least they try to. 

The great cutting heads of the Crossrail tunnel-boring machines were engines of the future drilling into the past. The whole railway project entailed a crawl back into history as archaeologists worked hand in hand with engineers, preserving – as far as possible – the ancient treasures they discovered along the way. One of the most striking finds, relics of which are now on display at the Museum of London Docklands, was a batch of skeletons, unearthed near Liverpool Street Station, in which the bacteria responsible for the Great Plague of 1665 were identified for the first time. Past and present are never truly separable.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s ambitious first novel ends in 1665 in the aftermath of that plague, and it, too, dances between past and present, history and modernity. Like those skeletons buried for centuries beneath Bishopsgate, it is rooted in the ground. The eponymous “peculiar ground” is Wychwood, a great house in Oxfordshire, a place where the wealthy can build walls around themselves to keep out ugliness, poverty, political change. Or at least that is what they believe they can do; it doesn’t spoil the intricacies of this novel to say that, in the end, they will not succeed.

It is a timely idea. No doubt Hughes-Hallett was working on her novel long before a certain presidential candidate announced that he would build a great wall, but this present-day undiplomatic reality can never be far from the reader’s mind, and nor will the questions of Britain’s connection to or breakage with our European neighbours. Hughes-Hallett’s last book, a biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, “the John the Baptist of fascism”, won a slew of awards when it was published four years ago and demonstrated the author’s skill in weaving together the forces of culture and politics.

Peculiar Ground does not confine itself to a single wall. Like Tom Stoppard’s classic play Arcadia, it sets up a communication between centuries in the grounds at Wychwood. In the 17th century, John Norris is a landscape-maker, transforming natural countryside into artifice on behalf of the Earl of Woldingham, who has returned home from the depredations of the English Civil War. In the 20th century a new cast of characters inhabits Wychwood, but there are powerful resonances of the past in this place, not least because those who look after the estate – foresters, gardeners, overseers – appear to be essentially the same people. It is a kind of manifestation of what has been called the Stone Tape theory, after a 1972 television play by Nigel Kneale in which places carry an ineradicable echo of their history, causing ghostly lives to manifest themselves through the years.

But the new story in Peculiar Ground broadens, heading over to Germany as it is divided between East and West in 1961, and again as that division falls away in 1989. Characters’ lives cannot be divorced from their historical context. The English breakage of the civil war echoes through Europe’s fractures during the Cold War. The novel asks how much human actors shape history and how much is beyond their control.

At times these larger questions can overwhelm the narrative. As the book progresses we dance between a succession of many voices, and there are moments when their individual stories are less compelling than the political or historical situations that surround them. But perhaps that is the point. Nell, the daughter of the land agent who manages Wychwood in the 20th century, grows up to work in prison reform and ­observes those who live in confinement. “An enclosed community is toxic,” she says. “It festers. It stagnates. The wrong people thrive there. The sort of people who actually like being walled in.”

The inhabitants of this peculiar ground cannot see what is coming. The novel’s modern chapters end before the 21st century, but the future is foreshadowed in the person of Selim Malik, who finds himself hiding out at Wychwood in 1989 after he becomes involved in the publication of an unnamed author’s notorious book. “The story you’re all so worked up about is over,” he says to a journalist writing about the supposed end of the Cold War. “The story I’m part of is the one you need to think about.”

A little heavy handed, maybe – but we know Selim is right. No doubt, however, Wychwood will endure. The landscape of this novel – its grounds and waters and walls – is magically and movingly evoked, and remains in the imagination long after the reader passes beyond its gates. 

Erica Wagner’s “Chief Engineer: the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge” is published by Bloomsbury

Erica Wagner is a New Statesman contributing writer and a judge of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. A former literary editor of the Times, her books include Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of “Birthday Letters” and Seizure.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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