Saturday, 21 February 2015

Review: Fanny Hill vs 50 Shades

Last week I went to see Bristol Old Vic's new production of Fanny Hill. This is a theatre version of John Cleland's 1748 erotic novel, banned until the 1960s. I have read the book and much of it you couldn't put on stage, on film or screen, which is why adaptations are often a bit limp. Anyway, I couldn't help wondering how it stood up against this week's other sex blockbuster, 50 Shades of Grey. So I went to see 50 Shades. Readers, the things I do for your pleasure. For a start, that's £8 I'll never get back. The Old Vic, on the other hand, gave me one for free, the sluts. Look, I don't want to end up in some kind of compromising situation, this isn't the the Telegraph, you know. Anyway, in the interests of full disclosure I should point out that I insanely adore Fanny Hill the novel. I dumped 50 Shades, the novel, at page 173. That done, let's get started:

Fanny Hill (the play) adapted from the funny, literary pornographic novel, which follows the trials tribulations and ah, other activities of Fanny as she goes from hapless rural orphan to brothel jail-bait, through true love, whoredom, and a good many scenarios besides.
50 Shades (the film) adapted from the unfunny, unliterary pornographic novel, which follows the trials tribulations and ah, other activities of Anastasia Steele as she goes from hapless literature student to being the mistress of controlling, BDSM-obsessed tycoon Christian Grey.

Fanny Hill (the play) 5/5 Sometimes TV actors are rubbish on stage, but Caroline Quentin looked very much at home. All the supporting cast, especially Gwyneth Keyworth, were excellent.
50 Shades (the film) 3/5 I feel sorry for Jamie Dornan. If he were to beat anyone with a whip, I think should probably be his agent. This is such an awful, implausible character to portray, the fact that he did it without visibly looking like he wanted to die is credit to his acting commitment.

Likeability of central character
Fanny Hill (the play) 4/5 Funny, rude, lewd, assertive and businesslike: but this version of Fanny Hill, as an older woman attempting to recount her youth as a whore, is a static creation, and less engaging than the one in the book, who changes as the narrative progresses.
50 Shades (the film) 2/5 Despite the best efforts of the actress who plays her, Anastasia is a clueless, personality-less void of a human doormat. In the book, she's like that so that readers can insert themselves into the narrative (there's a name for this, only I can't remember it). She's so thick that when Christian does stuff she doesn't like, she doesn't even use the safe word he's given her, she just starts crying instead.

Likeability of love interest
Fanny Hill (the play) 2/5 very disappointed in this. In the book, Fanny escapes the brothel to live with love of her life, Charles. Charles is skint but he loves Fanny, and when his horrid family find out they have him shipped off to the navy against his will. Later he comes back to find her, and he's such a nice guy he never even reproaches Fanny about working as a whore, he's just damn glad to find her. In the play, Charles has been completely removed as a character, thus destroying the central conceit of the story, which basically runs the gamut of sex from depraved lust to the passion of true love.
50 Shades (the film) 1/5 He might have ripped abs and loads of cash, but Christian Grey is really an unattractive man. He has no wit, no humour, and no interests apart from weird sex. Also, he has fucking terrible taste in interior decor. Christian Grey reproaches Anastasia about everything.

Sense of humour
Fanny Hill (the play) 4/5. Lots of humour, but got bogged down in political correctness at some points.
50 Shades (the film) 1/5. None. Though I did LOL at a couple of things that weren't meant to be funny.

Fanny Hill (the play) 5/5 oh these were brilliant. Everyone involved, male and female, looked brilliant and scorching hot. Fab fab fab 18th century costumes. Bring back breeches I say.
50 Shades (the film) 1/5 these were awful. Christian wears expensive, dull suits, and Anastasia is so free of free will or personality of any kind that she mostly wears jeans and white T-shirts.

Fanny Hill (the play) 3/5 there was a great box that opened up to show an 18th-century bedroom but overall I felt the look wasn't as dank and dark and atmospheric as might have been justified by the period.
50 Shades (the film) 1/5 Christian Grey's oh-so-expensive penthouse apartment is furnished like the window of House of Fraser furnishings dept. The room he makes Anastasia sleep in is like a suburban dream of sophistication that wouldn't look amiss in a semi-detached in Surrey. Everything around him has that soulless, characterless look of an upmarket chain hotel.

Fanny Hill (the play) 5/5 this was great, wonderful fiddling and bawdy singing by all involved.
50 Shades (the film) 2/5 Pleasant enough background, but I literally can't remember one thing that stood out.

Faitfulness of Adaptation
Fanny Hill (the play) 2/5 I do understand it's difficult to render 240 pages of varied shagging in a manner that won't get your theatre closed down. But they literally lost the plot! The whole thing became massively less interesting by the removal of the dramatic arc. Quite miffed about this.
50 Shades (the film) 4/5 Basically the plot intact but with the fortunate removal of EL James unfortunate writing style.

How long you have to wait before getting any
Fanny Hill (the book) 9 pages. About the same on stage.
50 Shades (the book) A godawful 146 pages. The film mercifully a lot less.

Actual levels of sexiness:
Fanny Hill (the play) 3/5 Bawdy and funny, but not particularly titillating.
50 Shades (the film) 1/5 Christian Grey made me think of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. I literally can't imagine anything worse. The entire thing was completely devoid of erotic charge, unless you get an erotic charge by thinking about being able to buy all the things in the House of Fraser furnishings dept.

Quality of Climax:
Fanny Hill (the play) 2/5 This was good fun for a while, but ended more with a whimper than a bang, and to be honest I'd lost interest about ten minutes previously.
50 Shades (the film) 2/5 Anastasia leaves in a lift after Christian slaps her bottom too hard. I can't describe the feeling of relief.

Best bit:
Fanny Hill (the play) Caroline Quentin hanging off a chandelier with a bloke's head up her skirt.
50 Shades (the film) The helicopter. Look, we'd all like a free helicopter ride.

Worst Bit:
Fanny Hill (the play) All the tortuous attempts to be politically correct about sex work.
50 Shades (the film) Every single bit of furniture in Christian Grey's apartment.

In conclusion:
Fanny Hill (the play) 35/50 A decent effort, a good night's entertainment with great acting, music and costumes, but ultimately let down by the pointless, post-modern messing with the narrative of the original novel.

50 Shades (the film) 18/50 A soulless, charmless lovesong to corporate capitalism, and less sexy than a James Bond movie. The only startling aspect was being in a cinema full of women. I say full. I mean half-full. It's like someone actually noticed that we're allowed out on our own.

The conclusion, concluded:
Fanny Hill: Try reading the book
50 Shades: Try watching Secretary

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