You have to hand it to Fifty Shades of Grey, it takes a special something to create a controversy in the fearful and slightly fusty world of publishing these days. Most of the best moral panics have already happened, and the ones that haven’t seem to be playing out across the internet, movies and good old reliable pop music, rather than in books. Or at least they had been, until EL James settled down to write herself some S&M fiction for the web, and then suddenly found herself a best-selling author, without even trying.
And of course, where theres’s a hit book, especially a sexy book, there’s usually a film production company with a big stack of cash. But if we’ve all suddenly become more sexually frank as a result of the 50 Shades phenomenon (just as we all became wizards after Harry Potter), what other controversial, sexually-charged books should the movie-makers be considering, to cash in?
Well I am glad I asked. Here’s a list:
The Miller’s Tale – Geoffrey Chaucer
Very much the 50 Shades of the medieval era, or perhaps the There’s Something About Mary, The Miller’s Tale is a bawdy affair, concerning an easily-duped carpenter, his attractive young wife, and the student lodging in their house. I won’t ruin the ending, but there’s seranading, some unpleasant kissing and a red hot poker. A perfect romp for comedians, and therefore not entirely sexy (although they do say laughter is the best aphrodisiac), an all-Brits cast starring James Corden, Sheridan Smith, and Mathew Baynton would be worth watching, whether a modern adaptation or a costume drama.
Fanny Hill – John Cleland
Again, we’re probably veering out of ‘sexy’ into other emotional states with this one. Fanny Hill is the fictionalised memoir of a London prostitute in the 18th Century. It was greeted with outrage when it was first published in 1748, and John Cleland faced imprisonment for having written it (in prison, ironically enough, for bad debts). A modern interpretation would have to tone down the whooping sauciness – it’s considered to be the first pornographic novel, and I believe there are already equivalents to that kind of thing on the internet – in favor of a more hazy and sensual morality tale about lost innocence in decadent times.
The Well Of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
You want thrilling and unconventional tales of sexuality? You want an escape from convention? Well, maybe you should take a long hard look at your life choices, before demanding too much from the world of fiction. And certainly don’t look to a movie adaptation of this book for titillation. Radclyffe Hall’s story of lesbian love amid the First World War is not graphic, or playful or coquettish, and it does not seek to do anything except create an equivalency between all forms of romantic affection, and break an appalled silence around homosexuality that had settled across British culture since the trial of Oscar Wilde. So even if Jessica Raine and Carey Mulligan were to star in a dramatic remake, you are not – repeat NOT – to derive any kind of illicit thrill from watching it. OK?
Ulysses – James Joyce
A polar opposite to 50 Shades – and therefore worth considering on an Anglo list even though it’s an Irish novel – James Joyce’s imperious work does contain an erotically charged first person narrative from a young woman wanting to explore a forbidden sexual landscape, but it’s widely considered to be a literary masterpiece, which is not an accolade that has been laid at the feet of 50 Shades, yet. There again, Ulysses is also widely considered to be impossible to capture on film, something that outraged 50 Shades fans, who’ve seen the cast list for their own movie adaptation, will have a lot of sympathy with.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – DH Lawrence
Granted, this does get adapted for film and TV relatively often, but a post-Downton Abbey reswizzle of this tale of love across the rigid class barriers would probably be quite an eye-opener. Particularly if it starred some of the actual Downton cast.
Hm. Maybe there’s a reason they don’t let bloggers make movies.