Review: The Secretary

Before I begin, I will put some cards on the table. I do not have a strong BDSM relationship in real-life; I am a switch for some light play with my wife, and we are fairly new to this sort of sex, at least on a regular basis. When I am dominant, the play is mostly around my wife being in bondage so I can bring my wife to orgasm on my terms, and never for impact play, pain or submission. I do submit for paddlings or beatings, but our BDSM life is playful and experimental and it is only a part of our sex life.

However, I first read the 120 Days of Sodom when I was in my early teens, and became very well acquainted with Victorian erotica, heavy on the corporal punishment and bondage as I got older. My wife and I adore The Story of O and I love the book; however fanciful it is. I was therefore quite excited when Molly, Saint1ess and Marie all recommended a BDSM film that they were certain I would enjoy; I barely hesitated as I bought the DVD and my expectations were high.

The Secretary is a 2002 film from Steven Shainberg starring Maggie Gyllenhaal (I adored her in Hysteria) and James Spader that shows a young, inexperienced secretary, Lee Holloway, entering into a submissive relationship with her employer, Edward E Grey. The film shows the awakening of Lee, as she evolves into a more confident, and submissive woman, while Edward guides her into a BDSM relationship. Lee falls in love with her boss, and rejects a vanilla lifestyle with Peter before proving her devotion to Mr Grey.

The acting, setting, plot, characterisation and pacing were all good, but I do have a major problem with the film. Both of the characters were “damaged” before meeting (Lee comes from a dysfunctional family and was hospitalised for self-harming and Edward has not come to terms with his own sexual desires) and I just hated that aspect of the film. It is in 50 Shades of Grey and I’ve seen it in so many places: people into kinky sex must have had a troubled childhood.

It’s such a lazy stereotype, and I really don’t think Lee’s challenging background added anything to the story whatsoever. It irritated me – the reasons why I enjoy submitting to my wife, or enjoy dominating my wife do not relate to my experiences growing up and I am slightly annoyed by the insinuation that they might be. I also think the Edward character was too inhuman at times; we didn’t see enough of what made him tick. I felt the ending needed more drama: it was building up to a great climax that never quite delivered.

Having said that, it wasn’t a bad film: the underlying story was fantastic and the execution was good. I am still waiting for that BDSM-themed Hollywood film where the characters don’t have a damaged back story or the lead character isn’t struggling to adapt to his sexual desires, but that the couple are well-adjusted, successful and happy. But then Hollywood rarely portrays anything accurately, so I will probably be waiting for a very long time.

I think there is room for something better, but I don’t disagree it’s one of the best films in genre, but maybe that’s because there isn’t enough of them around!

Product Name The Secretary (DVD)
Price Around £5
Summary Good film, but flawed in places.
Rating 4 out of 5
Legal This review is not endorsed by or written for anyone; still images come from the film and is used under a fair use doctrine.

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One Comment

  1. I agree with some of what you say here, particularly with reference to the connections to BDSM and previous damage or emotional trauma. However I will say that yes there are many couples/people who are “the couple are well-adjusted, successful and happy.” but that I don’t think I know a single person who has not been conflicted in some form or other about their kink. I think it for nearly everyone I know it has been a process/part of their kink journey and so a good story would and probably should encompass some form of that.

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