Sex, Love and Videotape

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Tag: Female role model

Bridget Jones’s Diary

YEAR: 2001
DIRECTOR: Sharon Maguire
KEY ACTORS: Rene Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 6.7
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 81%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️The cast are definitely fuckable. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, Rene Zellweger and Sally Phillips; there’s someone for every mood!
✔️ And although the qualifying dialogue has been described as meaningless, which feels unnecessarily cutting, there are plenty of named female characters who talk about other subjects than men so it passes the Bechdel Test.
✔️ It also definitely inspired fantasies – even though she’s supposed to be a mess, Bridget was pretty aspirational for me sexually. It may reveal the limitations of my own sexual fantasies, but I really wanted dirty weekends away in a B+B, I wanted to send secret messages to a coworker that I was fucking, and I wanted to do all of that while I still didn’t think I was perfect. And I really, really wanted a kiss like that between Bridget and Darcy.
✔️ It is also incredibly rewatchable. I cannot recall how often I’ve seen this film but it still makes me laugh every time and still makes me so happy, every time!
✔️ After much deliberation, I also decided that it is sex positive – more on this later!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Amazon Prime (free with subscription), NowTV (free with subscription), Sky Cinema (free with subscription), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

[Content warning: body image, dieting, emotionally abusive relationships]

The poster for Bridget Jones’s Diary

I have spent more of my life than you would expect thinking that I would eventually end up as Bridget Jones. It seemed inevitable. Even at the age of sixteen when the film came out, it was all achingly familiar. I come from the kind of middle-class country family who would hold a turkey curry buffet on Boxing Day and my parents had friends who wouldn’t think it unseemly to hold a Tarts and Vicars Party on a summer’s day. I don’t have a pervy Uncle Geoffrey who pinches my arse and asks about my love life, but I do have an outrageous aunt who insists on asking about my sex life, although she would be horrified if I actually told her! I have a cousin who is so exactly Bridget that it freaked me out quite a lot to see her on screen and, if that wasn’t proof enough, through various marriages to various other cousins, there are significantly less than six degrees of separation between me and Helen Fielding, the author of the original Bridget Jones novels. With a messy love life, a cupboard full of control knickers and a fridge that often contained only cheese, I could have been Bridget!

Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice, describing a year in the life of the eponymous Bridget Jones (Zellweger). After her mother introduces her to another eligible single gentleman at the Boxing Day turkey curry buffet, Mark Darcy (Firth), who then insults her, Bridget decides that she needs to revolutionise her life and does so by journaling. She decides to lose weight, stop smoking, and ‘stop forming romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, sexaholics, commitment-phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits, or perverts.’ Instead, she falls in love with someone who embodies all of these by starting a relationship with her boss, Daniel Cleaver (Grant), a man who ends up cheating on her and breaking her heart. Throughout the year, Jones and Darcy’s paths keep crossing and he eventually tells her he likes her, just as she is. Sadly the manner of his delivery and lies from Cleaver about stolen fiances mean that she doesn’t believe him and it takes her several more months to realise how great Darcy is and they finally get together at the end of the movie, with my favourite ever movie kiss.

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary of Bridget and Mark kissing in the snow

Despite the similarities in the class of our upbringing, I don’t share many of the particulars of Bridget’s lifestyle, but there is still something so familiar about her, which is probably why she is such a popular character, and that’s one of the main reasons why I do think of Bridget Jones as a feminist movie – its a story of an imperfect but relatable woman who achieves her goals without have to change herself to fit society’s expectations.

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary of her big pants

But this is certainly not the view of Suzanne Moore, which she shared in her blistering article ‘Why I hate Bridget Jones’ in 2013. Almost everything that I read about this film since 2013 has quoted or criticised her article, in which she slams Bridget as the ‘epitome of post-feminism – vapid, consumerist and self-obsessed.’ She criticised Bridget for wasting the independence that generations of feminists fought to achieve as she uses it to ‘get pissed, appreciate her female friends and speak openly of her sexual desires’ (Although, really, I maintain that the freedom to do these are important victories!). Moore felt that it wasn’t helpful to identify with Bridget as she was only a manifestation of what the mainstream media think women should be – obsessed with self-improvement, constantly dieting and easily distracted by men. Bridget may be funny but it is a self-critical humour as ‘her rhetoric about being a strong independent woman is always undermined by her pseudo neurosis.’ Feminists didn’t burn their bras and jump under horses to give women the freedom to flirt with their bosses!

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary of Bridget and Daniel at work

I do get Moore’s point – the battle is not yet won. We are not yet living in an equal society and presenting women as overly concerned with their appearance and romantic relationships does comply with the patriarchal image of women as mothers and homemakers, or trophy wives and prizes. Bridget isn’t battling the patriarchy and isn’t trying to reduce or even notice the inequalities she sees around her, but does that really matter? To share a long quote from Caitlin Moran’s introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of the original novel, dismissing Bridget is dismissing the ordinary woman who needs to know that their ordinary lives are also important and also worthy of being a book and a film. Even at our most frivolous, we are of value:

There is a school of feminism, of course, which decries the misadventures of female characters. Why must Bridget obsess about her arse so much? Why must she fall for bad men? Why is she so self-absorbed? Could she not spend these books living an enlightened, guilt-free, empowered existence – engaging only in political activism, literary discussion of restrictive gender-normative tropes, and good works for the poor? What is the point of feminism if Bridget is constantly counting her calories whilst chain-smoking out of her mother’s spare-bedroom window, and banging sexy ass-hats? Whither sexual equality?…Feminism needs the female equivalents of the ridiculous, glorious Mr Toad, Flashman, Basil Fawlty, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Adrian Mole, Ignatius J. Reilly, Falstaff and George Costanza far more than it needs another woman effortfully, and unhappily, trying to live another deserving, upstanding, perfect and dull life, like some kind of angry, teetotal, hectoring nun.’

More than that, I think that there is something very empowering about Bridget admitting her faults to herself and trying to improve. She also manages to do this without too much trauma or pain. Taking Bridget’s dieting as an example, this is not accompanied by self-recrimination when she falls off the wagon nor painfully body-negative descriptions of herself. She wants to lose a bit of weight so she doesn’t need to wear stomach controlling pants anymore but doesn’t seem to make much effort to diet, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a relatable attitude towards food and body shape! Even in her innermost private thoughts, she never berates herself for gaining weight again or calls herself hurtful names. She’s aware of her faults but accepts them with kindness and laughter, and, to me, that is a truly feminist message – an opinion shared by Helen Fielding: ‘I think it’s worrying in the first place that people would think a book about a woman laughing about her foibles is not feminist. It is a mark of strength to be able to laugh at yourself, not weakness.

And I think it’s important to point out that much of the behaviour and language that is thought to be problematic is not seen in Bridget’s wider life – it is all in her inner monologue – and, honestly, how often do we have thoughts that we wouldn’t necessarily share out loud – whether self-critical or perhaps politically dubious. As described in Bustle, Bridget ‘is the poster child for accepting that sometimes, our innermost thoughts don’t always line up with our feminist philosophies.’ Women are often made to feel guilty for our frivolous thoughts, just as Moore did in her criticism above, but they are real, no matter how trivial they may be.

But most importantly, all of this means that Bridget is hugely relatable. Zellweger described her as representing ‘the truth of who we are versus who it is that we aspire to be.’ And I know that that’s why I relate to her. I’m constantly surprised that my life and career aren’t as chaotic as Bridget’s as I often feel like I too am bumbling around, trying to look like I fit in. The only real difference is that we hear Bridget’s thoughts so know how hard she is working to maintain the serene professional exterior. And that is reassuring! It’s reassuring to know that sometimes even those who look incredibly well put together are winging it a bit too! In my own career, I have never been more surprised than when I received feedback from my nursing colleagues congratulating me on how calm I looked during a crisis as I have always felt like a headless chicken – I felt like Bridget Jones!

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary showing Bridget in her pyjamas

Whether getting drunk alone and singing weepy power ballads, accidentally making a fool of yourself then work or prematurely imagining your wedding to a crush, Bridget represents so many things that so many women could relate to but, equally, that we are taught to be ashamed of – and I’m going to tag in the patriarchy here as feeling guilty about our behaviour like this is one way that the patriarchy holds women back. Yet Bridget not only succeeds, she thrives, just as she is. To quote from a Bustle article, ‘through all the successes, failures, and thoughts that accompany both, she gives a sense of community to women everywhere who think those self-doubting thoughts and feel guilty about it.’

But even aside from these feminist issues, this is an important movie for this blog because it’s also a movie about sex!

I spent a long time trying to decide if Bridget Jones’s Diary is a sex positive movie, because there are pros and cons on each side.

On the positives, I love that sex is shown to be a lot of fun! Daniel and Bridget laugh a lot when having sex and, even as a teenager, I knew that that was the kind of sex I wanted to have. I also liked that, despite Bridget’s body hang ups, they can still have great and comfortable sex. The big pants trope started here, and it’s not really shown as a negative. Admittedly, Bridget’s weight issues have aged badly as her figure is stunning! I would love to look that good as a Playboy Bunny and I don’t really think she can be described as fat. She’s not Hollywood skinny but she’s not nearly plus-sized!

An image of Bridget from Bridget Jones’s Diary

But it’s not perfect. When away on their mini break, it is strongly suggested that Bridget and Daniel have anal sex but, just as Daniel is the only character who never tries to give up smoking, I fear that this is used to emphasise that he’s a bad and corrupt person.

Also, the fact that Bridget’s mother wants a sex life is definitely played for laughs. It is both reasonable and understandable that she would still want sex, and is a perfectly good reason to leave Bridget’s father, a man who is useless and appears to make very little effort to maintain an equal partnership. Instead, Bridget’s mother is portrayed as selfish for abandoning her family. When Bridget is celebrated for her independence and career aspirations, her mother is a joke for wanting the same.

But in the end, I gave it the mark for sex positivity as I liked how it described healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how clear it was to differentiate between them.

I was absolutely fascinated by Daniel Cleaver on this rewatch because, more so than ever before, his emotionally abusive behaviour shone through, but I also had to accept that he was still fucking hot. I stand by About A Boy as Grant’s hotness peak, but this is definitely a close second. He’s just so perfect in this role and I can’t blame Bridget for falling for his tricks. I know I probably would have too, and I think this is important as women are too often blamed for the abuse they may later receive. Because there is no doubt that he is emotionally abusive – he gaslights her by dismissing her correct conclusions about his behaviour and sounds in his house when he cheats on her; he basically tells her that she’s stupid and wouldn’t understand his complex life in order to avoid explaining himself; and he emotionally manipulates her into returning to him when he tells her that he needs her: ‘‘I need you, Bridge…If I can’t make it with you, I can’t make it with anyone!’ Also, he had the nerve to say that he thought she’d be alone on a day that is not only her birthday but is also her biggest professional success. What a twat! What a hot hot twat!

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary showing Daniel rowing a boat

In contrast, I love love love Firth’s Mark Darcy! I’m not going to repeat my deep dive into the Darcy character, but I do love that this is another different version of the character. Not quite as personally socially awkward as MacFadyen’s version, I got the impression instead that this Darcy was actually a bit spineless, which is a shame as I otherwise find him fucking hot. His awkwardness seems to come from an inability to stand up to the women around him – he wears the Christmas jumper to please his mother, he doesn’t have more fun when rowing on the lake despite clearly wanting to join in as Natasha thinks it looks childish, and it almost feels like he got engaged to Natasha as he didn’t know how to say no. Do you think she asked him? Or did he ask out of social obligation? Darcy and Natasha have so little chemistry that I don’t even believe that they work well together!

Which is why I love him and Bridget so. Darcy seems so much more relaxed, so much more himself. Them gently mocking each other when cooking and the easy way that he just fits in with her friends is such a contrast from his stiff appearance at other times. Unfortunately, we could draw an unflattering conclusion that he doesn’t feel threatened by Bridget as she’s so chaotic, but I prefer to think that it comes back to the absolutely world-shaking importance of the fact that they like each other, just as they are.

I’ve been repeating that phrase throughout this post as, to me, it’s what the whole movie is about. Bridget spends the entire film trying to improve herself as she has been made to feel inferior and stupid, admittedly originally by Darcy too, but she finds someone who likes her anyway. And Darcy is clearly unhappy with his position in the world, trying to maintain this image of a serious human rights lawyer and well brought up gentleman but, through Bridget, he is able to relax and accept himself as he really is.

And right at the end of the movie, we’re given a hint that he’s not such a straight guy after all (as in boring, not heterosexual, although I would read that fan fiction in a heartbeat). However dull we might have been led to believe Darcy is, that kiss at the end is everything…

Bridget: Wait a minute…nice boys don’t kiss like that.
Mark Darcy: Oh, yes, they fucking do.

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary showing Bridget and Darcy in the snow

And, to me, that is literally the dream – a good man with a filthy twist. When I see this film, I like to imagine a different future from that revealed in the later movies and books; a future where being loved, just as they are, allows Bridget and Mark to cast aside their body confidence issues and awkwardness and then have lots of hot hot sex, perhaps discovering a shared love of kink, perhaps even with Bridget dominating Mark so he can enjoy being controlled by the strong woman in his life in way that does make him happy.

Now, tell me that wouldn’t be a better movie than Edge of Reason.

Next week – Die Hard

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Easy A

YEAR: 2010
DIRECTOR: Will Gluck
KEY ACTORS: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.1
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 85%

SEX SCORE: 4.5/5
✔️ Easily passes the Bechdel test, particularly if you consider conversations about sexual reputation as separate from conversations about men and dating
✔️ Definitely rewatchable. In fact, I watch it approximately twice a year!
✔️ I do want to fuck the cast, yes. And by that I mean that I want to fuck Stanley Tucci.
❓ This film didn’t inspire any sexual fantasies…but Emma Stone in those corsets certainly inspired me to get off my arse and do more exercise! Wanting to look more like her was one of my main inspirations for starting running, for buying more fancy underwear, for buying corsets so I’m giving it a half mark!
✔️ And I am giving it a whole mark for sex positivity. There is a lot of shame directed towards sexual characters but the film goes out of its why to show why they are wrong. It also manages to find humour in varied sexuality choices and sexual situations without mocking or judging. It’s wonderful!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Netflix, Amazon Prime (free with subscription), YouTube (officially from £2.99, although there is a full length upload for free too). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

Poster for Easy A, showing Stone looking perplexed holding a sign saying ‘The rumour filled totally false account of how I ruined my flawless reputation’

I intended on reviewing Easy A at some point for this blog – it’s a cracking teen movie with great lessons about reputation, sex and rumour – but then I saw this tweet and realised that I not only needed to dance around to A Pocket Full of Sunshine immediately, because it is indeed a banger, but I also needed to watch Easy A again. Soon.

Easy A is the story of Olive Pendergast (Emma Stone) – a high school student who accidentally starts a rumour about losing her virginity, helps a bullied queer student to pass as straight by pretending to sleep with him, and ends up with more and more outcasts asking her to pretend they’ve hooked up in one way or another. Such is the power of the rumour mills that Olive’s new reputation soon causes her to become an outcast. Of course she’s had sex with everyone who says that she has! Of course she’s why another student gets an STI! And Olive decides to live up to her new reputation by dressing in corsets or tiny shorts, all emblazoned with a scarlet letter A.

Emma Stone walking through high school wearing jeans, sunglasses and a black corset labelled with a red A

I love this film. I love everything about it. I love the music, I love the costumes, I love Emma Stone, I love Stanley Tucci. I love that it is a teen movie that doesn’t underestimate teenagers. I love it so much that when a Sinful Sunday erotic photography prompt was simply ‘A,’ it was the perfect opportunity to both stitch a large red A to my corset and pose in sunglasses as Olive does, but also to buy the corset in the first place. Even now, in my thirties, I kind of want to be Olive Pendergast!

You see, I wasn’t cool at school. Even with hindsight removing all my insecurities, I wasn’t cool. I volunteered to supervise Duke of Edinburgh expeditions; I was one half of a two person yearbook committee; I drove a car that managed to be older than me but not old enough to be vintage or retro – it was just old. I was not cool. But neither is Olive. I mean, she’s awesome, but she’s not cool in the way students usually are in movies about high school. She’s not a jock or cheerleader. No one really knows her until the rumours start. But she is still awesome – smart, witty, gorgeous – and I really valued the remainder that being in the ‘cool’ group isn’t nearly everything!

Me, posing in a black corset with red A, sunglasses and pearls

These more superficial reasons aside, Easy A is a pretty great film! It’s self-aware, mocking John Hughes tropes and acknowledging its place in a long history of teen movies. It’s also intelligent and funny, and it does not patronise its target audience of young people, particularly young women.

I think it helps that it’s an update of a 19th century novel, The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. It seems all of the best teen movies are versions of older masterpieces – Clueless from Jane Austen’s Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Cruel Intentions from Les Liaisons Dangereuses and now this. I suspect that this is because it’s telling a real story. Too much media made for younger people underestimates their intelligence, and is less good because of it.

(There is, of course, the less generous argument that high school is the last time in modern society where we can spend all our time and energy focussed on romantic plotting and not having a date to the ball is the end of the world so it’s easy to transfer the themes of classic literature, but I prefer my reason!)

I’ve never read The Scarlet Letter (although I have now read the cliff notes in case they had anything interesting to add, which they did not) but the themes in the book are familiar ones – reputation, humiliation…misogyny. Whether in the nineteenth century or the present day, women with a visible sexuality are regularly shunned and cast aside. As seen in this film, men have never suffered the same and instead tend to benefit from having a highly charged sexual reputation – it’s why so many of the boys want to cash in on Olive’s reputation after all.

Stone facing the camera, holding a sign that says ‘not with a fizzle but with a bang’

It is interesting that no one ever doubts that these rumours about Olive are true. Actually, it’s not interesting – it’s the patriarchy. In a he-said-she-said world, would anyone believe her? As one of the needy boys taunted, ‘I don’t need your permission, you know!’ Olive went from being a nerdy nobody to reportedly fucking nearly everyone in school in a matter of weeks, and yet no one questions her ‘slutty alter ego.’ All it took was a rumour that she had had sex once to launch her into the spotlight.

‘That’s the beauty of being a girl in high-school: people hear you had sex once and BAM – you’re a bimbo.’

It reminded me just how hard it is to be a teenage girl! Our youth has been so sexualised that being seen as sexually active and attractive feels disproportionately important. We want to be cool, we want to be hot, we want to seen, we want to be sexual, and yet we risk gaining a reputation for being easy and promiscuous if we do. Olive’s friend Rhiannon exactly demonstrates this difficult and delicate balance – she is thrilled when it is revealed that her big tits are her identifying feature and calls Olive a ‘superslut like me’ on hearing she’s lost her virginity, and yet Rhiannon is the first to turn on Olive when the rumours start to get out of control, declaring her a ‘skank.’ In fact, the rumours essentially start with Rhiannon as she doesn’t believe it when Olive denies having sex, prompting her to just make something up.

And I know why Olive does it; why she lies and then doubles down on her lie by dressing in revealing clothes, dramatically labelling herself with the A from The Scarlet Letter to ensure no one misses her point. There is pleasure in notoriety, in being someone everyone knows and is talking about. Why do you think I joined the yearbook committee? I wanted everyone to know who I was! Admittedly, it may have been more fun and significantly less work if I’d chosen Olive’s way but I didn’t realise that until much later…!

‘How do you know I like to be thought of as a floosy?’
‘At least you’re being thought of.’

I realised watching Easy A again now that I’m looking at it differently since the birth of my daughter, but in ways that only say good things about the film. Because it is a film that I want her to see. It’s one that can teach her how to be the person I want her to be – confident, sure of herself – and it has certainly given me ideas on how to be a better parent for her.

Olive’s parents, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, are just fabulous in this film – they’re the icing on an already perfect film. And the real lesson that I’ve learned from them is that they trust Olive without question. Their daughter is going to school wearing underwear as outerwear but they trust her to take care of herself. They repeatedly check in and express their concerns without judging her, making sure she knows they are there for her, but they accept her words when she says she’s OK and wait for her to come to them when she needs their help. Which, of course, she does.

Tucci looking concerned

In contrast to that, my mother once told me I looked like I was asking to be raped when I wore a bikini as a bra under a halter top and, even though I know she was trying to protect me, I haven’t forgotten. And actually, 15 years later, I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven either. I love my mother and we get on very well now but I don’t like to think about the number of conversations that were cut off before the words left my mouth after that because I was afraid of her judgement, and I don’t want that to be my relationship with my daughter.

I don’t think I have the free and easy style of Tucci and Clarkson to carry off their wit and joviality, but I hope I can be as open and approachable. And understanding! I just adore Rosemary’s (Clarkson) response to Olive’s confession about her reputation at school: ‘I had a similar situation when I was your age. I had a horrible reputation…Because I slept with a whole bunch of people. Mostly guys.’ Not just don’t worry, you’ll be fine but don’t worry, I understand – I’ve been through it and I believe that you’ll be fine. And I think that’s wonderful.

Olive: Can you not see that I’m a mess?
Rosemary: No, you’re not, Olive. You’re wonderful. And you’ll handle this the same way I did. With an incontrovertible sense of humour. But you’re much smarter than I am… so you’ll come out of this much better than I did.
Olive: Thank you, Mom.

Stone and Clarkson laughing together and sitting on a cat bonnet

This complete lack of judgement is why Easy A is definitely a sex positive film. Yes, it does depict judgement but it’s from characters who are also shown to be flawed – Marianne and her religious extremists, Lisa Kudrow’s truly awful guidance counsellor. The people that we’re supposed to like and root for are all sex positive. Sex isn’t the enemy or the destructive power; it’s the lies and misunderstandings and judgement that are clearly shown to be the problem.

Roger Ebert does note that, as is often the case in movies when jokes involve virginity, the protagonist‘s virginity ‘miraculously survives at the end‘ but I don’t think this undermines the sex positive message – Olive may not have had sex yet but the film ends with the message that whenever she wants to, whether soon or not, that’s OK.

Stone licking a spoon suggestively while looking at Marianne, the religious student

I also couldn’t write about the sex positivity of this film without mentioning Woodchuck Todd (Penn Badgley). He is just the perfect gentleman and provides a great example of how consent is both hot and doesn’t break the mood, or whatever other excuses people come up with. He asks if he can kiss Olive and then accepts her no without question. He also doesn’t seem to believe the rumour mill surrounding Olive, treating her exactly the same as always. He’s a good man and a good role model.

My final point about Easy A is a sort of throwback to my recent review of Zack and Miri make a porno. One of my main criticisms of that film was that it mocked vulnerable social groups and found humour in being offensive, which I really didn’t find funny. But I do find Easy A funny. It’s fucking hilarious! And that includes jokes about being gay and about being a stripper or sex worker. The jokes work for me because they don’t feel like they’re punching down, no one is inherently superior or portrayed as better, and within the whole positive non-judgemental tone of the film, jokes on these topics don’t even feel edgy. They’re simply funny!

Yup, Easy A is brilliant. I might have to watch this more frequently then twice a year…!

Next week: The Before trilogy…

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

The Thomas Crown Affair

YEAR: 1999
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
KEY ACTORS: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 6.8/10
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 70%

SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ Fuckable cast – Brosnan is at his hottest and Russo is literally on fire
✔️ Sex positive themes – borderline case as Denis Leary’s sex negative ‘And you don’t care what that makes you?’ cop isn’t shouted down as much as I’d like, but they relish sex and pleasure so much that it has to pass
✔️ Definitely a source of fantasy material – I even wanted to fuck on marble stairs because of this film
✔️ Endlessly rewatchable
Fails the Bechdel test – the only two named female characters don’t say a word to each other, despite sharing scenes. Shame.

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Netflix, YouTube (from £7.99), Amazon Prime (to rent £3.49 or buy £4.99), iTunes (buy £8.99)

The Thomas Crown Affair poster, showing Pierce Brosnan in profile in front of Rene Russo facing forward against an orange background

The remake of The Thomas Crown Affair came out in 1999 when I was fourteen. Some teenagers do discover their sexuality at a very young age but I was not that teenager. I was sixteen when I had my first kiss, eighteen when I had sex and nearly thirty before I had sex that I consistently enjoyed. A friend once described me as ‘a bookish strawberry blonde who liked chemistry, sailing and Alistair MacLean novels,’ which paints an uncannily accurate image of who I was!

I also loved James Bond. I loved James Bond with such a nerdy passion that it could easily have been my Mastermind specialist subject as I knew All The Facts. I had, however, never seen a Bond film at the cinema. Despite being technically old enough to see 12-rated Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, my parents still felt I was too young and wouldn’t take me so I was literally gagging for the release of The World Is Not Enough in November 1999.

But before then, in August 1999, came The Thomas Crown Affair, a slick heist movie with current Bond star Pierce Brosnan in the eponymous title role and directed by Die Hard’s director John McTiernan no less. There was no way I was going to miss it! (And yes, I appreciate the irony that I wasn’t allowed to see TND when I was 12 and yet could see a 15-rated film at fourteen, but never mind…) So it was that fourteen year old sexually naive me went to the cinema to see what still ranks as the sexiest mainstream movie I have ever seen! Fuck me, this movie is hot!!

It was released before EL James ruined the reputation of the playboy millionaire and the whole movie had a frisson of deliciousness that dazzled me from the start. It has a mischievous and glamorous aura that made everything feel desirable and luxurious, and I was hooked. I wanted the clothes, the boats, the style. Everything!

Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan), the eponymous hero, is a bored millionaire who concocts the perfect art heist, stealing a Monet in broad daylight from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. So clever is his scheme that the NYPD are struggling to unravel it and it falls to Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), an insurance investigator, to kickstart the investigation. And, wow, the chase that ensues! Banning and Crown seduce each other in the most magnificent cat and mouse game, neither quite able to tell if the painting, the game or the person is the biggest attraction.

Watching them, I wanted to play that sort of game. Their verbal sparring is electric and, although I read some criticism of their chemistry, I believed it. It’s all part of their game so of course it’s a little contrived. They’re both too clever for their own good but it’s hot as hell to watch them play with each other!

I don’t really want to dwell on the original movie (as I didn’t really like it), except to say that my mother still claims that the chess game between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway is one of the sexiest scenes ever filmed. I’m not so sure; for me, it is too contrived. Dunaway running her fingers suggestively over the chess pieces and close ups of fingers against lips may have been risqué in 1968 but now it feels like a sledgehammer!

It’s funny – the oxymoronic blatant subtlety of the 1968 version feels overdone but the rawness of the 1999 version hides nothing and yet is so hot and really works. Just the dance scene alone is enough to get my pulse racing! Never mind Dirty Dancing, Crown asking Banning if she wants to dance or if she wants to dance ensured that I always think of dancing as a potentially highly sexual act.

I mentioned in the sex, lies and videotape post that seeing that movie in the early 2000s was the beginning of the end of thinking that movie sex was in any way real but I had not yet come to this realisation when I saw this. And although time and experience have taught me that fucking on a marble floor and staircase probably isn’t as hot as it looks, their sex still turns me on; it’s still what I’d want. The laughter, the sweaty exhaustion, their chemistry and obvious comfort in their nakedness is just kind of wonderful. They look like they’re having fun and I think that’s what sex should be!

Brosnan dances with another woman with Russo tapping on her shoulder to cut in

This all also meant that Rene Russo became a kind of feminist hero for me, although for reasons that would shock Piers Morgan! She was 45 when the film was released, which seemed so old when I was fourteen, but I absolutely definitely wanted to be her when I grew up. Successful, intelligent, well-dressed, beautiful in a way that didn’t try to mask or minimise her age, and with the kind of sexual confidence that means she could turn up to a black and white ball in a see-through dress, no underwear and red scarf, and fucking get her man! She is just incredible. From her first appearance with hot tousled hair, big sunglasses and stockings, I was in love. Coming in the same year as Britney Spears apparently showing us what was sexy in her ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ video, this alternate and much more appealing image of female sexuality was frankly revolutionary.

Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan, leaning in towards each other to kiss. Both are topless with a towel wrapped around their necks

Until recently, that’s as far as my thoughts on this film went. Russo is fabulous, the sex is hot and the chase is electrifying! Except I now realise that it’s not that simple.

It was only when writing this post that it occurred to me that all they really had was the chase, and this probably wasn’t the romantic ideal that I thought it was. Although the film ends with the two of them flying off into the sunset, I don’t know how much faith I’d have that they are still together now, ten years later. [Edit: oh my gosh, 1999 was actually twenty years ago!!!] The seduction was everything! And they know it. Crown even calls Banning out on this, asking why none of her relationships lasted. Once the chase was won, did they have enough to hold onto? Each had to ask the other if it was just about the painting, each is presented as being too independent to settle down and the fact that he successfully uses jealousy to unsettle her suggests that she wouldn’t be happy in an open relationship. So without the energy of the chase, would they still be happy?

As is so often the case, it all comes down to trust. After everything they’ve done, to each other and to themselves, can they trust each other? As Faye Dunaway’s psychiatrist asks Crown, under what extraordinary circumstances would he allow that to happen?

Whatever their future, it doesn’t change how fucking sexy this film is or my enjoyment watching it. Hottest movie sex scene of all time – I challenge you to find better!

Next week: Fifty Shades of Grey!

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.