Movie Review – Secretary (2002)

Director: Steven Shainberg

Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader, Jeremy Davis

A vulnerable young woman (Gyllenhaal) starts working as a secretary for a powerful lawyer (Spader), who subsequently introduces her to the BDSM lifestyle. His name? Mr Grey…

Sound familiar? Hmm. Yes, you did read the title right, this isn’t a review for 50 Shades of Grey. That’s coming tomorrow so I’ll do a proper comparison then but for now I’m just going to talk about Secretary. It’s a movie I’ve heard in passing as the anticipation for 50 Shades of Grey has grown, but I’m surprised I hadn’t heard more of it before because it’s a good movie with strong performances. I firmly believe that Maggie Gyllenhaal is a terribly underrated actress and she gives a great performance here.

While Secretary is about the BDSM lifestyle it’s not erotic in nature and focuses more on the two characters. Lee is shown at the beginning to leave an institution as she has a history of self-harming, and she’s very unsure of herself. It’s a skittish performance, with rounded shoulders, nervous tics, and constant glances averted away from people she sees as superior to her. Mr. Grey is a dominant personality but he’s struggling with his true nature, and ends up pushing away the people he cares about because he can’t come to terms with it.

I loved how the characters changed as their relationship blossomed. Lee was always concerned with following a normal path, but as she gets more into the BDSM she stops self-harming and becomes more assertive. Even though she’s the submissive partner it brings out a dominant side in her as she finally goes after what she wants, and although parts of their relationship may seen seem odd and even a little degrading it’s clear that she enters into the relationship willingly and she’s never coerced or forced to do anything she doesn’t want to. One of the more powerful sequences is when she shows just how far she’s willing to go to show him that she cares for him. Mr. Grey is a complex character, and I felt there perhaps could have been more insight given into his past relationship and how they failed, but I liked how he struggled with his feelings and the ways in which Lee showed him that it was okay to be true to his nature.

The last sequence was actually moving, and it showed that he genuinely cared about her, and loved her. The main theme from the film is that it’s important to be true to yourself and embrace who you are. I found Secretary to be a mature look at a lifestyle that is often misrepresented in the media, so I hope that more people check this out in the wake of 50 Shades.


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