Fifty Shades Of Grey | 2015
The one-time piece of online Twilight fan fiction replaced Harry Potter books and The Da Vinci Code as the necessary adjunct to a long train/bus/plane journey, and the film adaptation happily trots through its by-the-numbers format without expending needless energy on plot, characterisation or dialogue.
As with the series that inspired it, the story is set in the damp and fittingly grey-skied Pacific Northwest of the USA around Portland and Seattle but, apart from some Second Unit scene setting, was made in Vancouver, largely around the city’s historic downtown core, Gastown, and in the North Shore Studios (formerly Lionsgate Studios), 555 Brooksbank Avenue in North Vancouver.
So Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is first seen jogging not around Seattle or Portland, but in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour seafront area and down the steps at Oceanic Plaza on Hastings Street.
It does get a little confusing here, as there are two Vancouvers. Although the film is made in the famous Canadian city in British Columbia, there is another smaller city of the same name in Washington State (not really such a coincidence – they were both named after British sea captain George Vancouver who explored much of the Pacific Northwest coast).
It happens that Washington State University has a campus in the US Vancouver, and it’s here that Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is studying journalism. So Vancouver, BC, gets to play ‘Vancouver, WA’, as these university scenes were filmed on the campus of the University of British Columbia, 2329 West Mall, using classrooms in the Liu Institute for Global Issues on Northwest Marine Drive, and exteriors of the Student Union Building and the Irving K Barber Learning Centre on East Mall.
Fortuitously standing in for her sick roommate, Kate, Ana heads off to the intimidating hi-rise ‘Grey House’ to interview mysterious Christian Grey, CEO of Grey Enterprises, who has amassed a mind-boggling fortune seemingly by shouting “That is not acceptable!” into the phone.
As residents of Vancouver will have spotted, Grey’s HQ is part of the Bentall Centre complex in Downtown. The 35-story Bentall 5 (or Five Bentall Centre), 550 Burrard Street between Dunsmuir and West Pender Streets, was the last tower of the complex when it was completed in 2007.
With the film’s tag line, “Mr Grey will see you now”, Ana nervously conducts the interview. They lock eyes; he sees her hidden passions; she sees his hidden pain, and we see an unashamedly old-fashioned romance, modishly tricked out with primly tasteful S&M accessories. And Ana comes away with Mr Grey’s business card.
Christian Grey is clearly a thrifty billionaire, shopping for his ‘personal’ equipment not at some fancy specialist emporium (I’m shocked to learn there are such places), but at his local hardware store. And – crikey! – whom should he find financing her college education by working in the store but Anastasia, ready to supply him with various widths of duct tape and yards of photogenically blood-red rope.
‘Clayton’s’, the reassuringly well-stocked store, is Ladner Village Hardware, 4821 Delta Street, between Bridge Street at 48 Avenue in Delta, way south of Vancouver across the Fraser River.
Away from his Seattle home, Grey is staying at ‘Portland’s’ fictitious ‘Heathman Hotel’, which is the Fairmount Hotel, 900 West Georgia Street, just a few blocks southwest of Bentall 5. It’s in the hotel’s British Columbia Ballroom that Grey obligingly poses for a photoshoot by Ana’s college chum, Jose.
After the session, Ana accompanies Christian to a ‘Portland’ coffee house where the pair tentatively get to know each other. The cool, bare brick-walled hangout was Rainier Provisions, since closed, which stood at 2 West Cordova Street, housed in the historic 106-year-old Rainier Hotel building in Gastown.
As they exit the coffee house and walk along Abbott Street, Christian grabs Ana from the path of an oncoming bike. After a brief clinch, he has a flicker of doubt “I’m not the man for you. I have to let you go.” But of course he doesn’t.
They’re at the corner of street corner of Water Street, near the statue of Gassy Jack, from whom Gastown gets its name, and the eagle eyed will have spotted that they’re outside Peckinpah Restaurant. This isn’t a movie in-joke by the Production Designer, by the way, it’s a real Gastown restaurant.
Like all good students, Ana celebrates the end of her finals by getting well and truly trashed with her friends. Sadly, the bar was just a set built in the Burrard Iron Works building, 235 Alexander Street at Main Street, near CRAB Park.
A drunken phone call brings the concerned Christian hurrying over in time to catch her barfing spectacularly in the street. The bar entrance was the rear of the Burrard Iron Works (which now houses an exhibition space) beneath the curve of the Main Street Overpass. The same complex was later used as Ajax's lair in Deadpool.
Ana wakes up from her alcoholic haze, inevitably sans clothes, in Christian’s hotel room. He’s quick to reassure her that nothing happened, adding that nothing will happen without her written consent – his tastes being, as he admits with an archaically Victorian flourish, “very singular”.
Nevertheless, he’s soon showing up, with chauffeur, at the hardware store and whisks Ana off in a waiting ’copter for a night flight to Seattle.
Just as in the book, Grey’s penthouse turns out to be atop the city’s Escala Tower, 1920 4th Avenue at Virginia Street in Belltown.
The tower’s real penthouse was sold for a massive $6.2 million – supposedly the highest price paid for a Seattle condo in many years. I hope the new owner wasn’t too disappointed to discover that it doesn’t really come with a locked Red Room (author EL James has admitted she’d never set foot in the place).
The play room was built in the studio and other interiors for the Escala were filmed in 36-story Jameson House, 838 West Hastings Street, back in downtown Vancouver.
It’s here that Christian finally gives Ana a little taste of his singularity, and the next day drives her home, briefly stopping off at Stanley Park, Pipeline Road. The wooden pier on which they talk is at Beaver Lake.
Ana’s new ‘Portland’ apartment, outside which Christian hands her the written contract for her consideration, and later delivers a posh replacement for her beloved VW, is 120 Powell Street, barely a block west of the Iron Works bar location.
Soon Ana is graduating at a ceremony held in the Chan Sun Concert Hall of the UBC Chan Centre For The Performing Arts, 6265 Crescent Road, where Christian makes a speech (did I forget to mention he’s also a benefactor of Ana’s college?) letting slip the tantalising hint that he knows what it’s like to go hungry.
The Chan Centre has become something of a staple for TV sci-fi shows, having appeared in The 4400, Fringe, Stargate Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica.
At the subsequent reception party in the university’s nearby Frederic Wood Theatre, Ana now introduces Christian as her boyfriend.
She goes on to join Christian, his mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and family for dinner at the Grey home, which is Casa Mia, 1920 Southwest Marine Drive in Vancouver's Southlands neighbourhood. The Spanish Revival/art deco mansion, built in 1932 for brewery magnate George Reifel – during Prohibition – was also seen in the pilot show for TV’s Psych.
The wonderful glass-roofed swimming pool, where Ana questions the nature of their relationship, is the Pompeii Pool at the nearby Rio Vista estate, 2170 Southwest Marine Drive.
Control-freak Christian is taken aback at Ana’s sudden announcement that the next day she’s off to visit her mother in Savannah, Georgia.
The ‘Savannah’ hotel bar in which Ana discusses her new relationship with her mother (Jennifer Ehle) is The Fish House in Stanley Park (which has also closed – oh dear, the curse of Fifty Shades?), 8901 Stanley Park Drive. When Christian suddenly shows up, many women might think it’s time to consider taking out a restraining order, but Ana is happy to take off for another mystery trip, this time looping and rolling in a glider at Boundary Bay Airport, a few miles southeast of the hardware store in Delta.
An urgent phone call summons the two back to the Escala, where Ana pushes the limits of what she’s willing to do and, depending on your level of cynicism, the film ends with either a daring structural shock, or a blatantly contrived teaser for the sequel.