'Effie Gray' is 50 shades of dull
Fact based Effie Gray is the dull-as-it-sounds story of a young bride (Dakota Fanning) whose weirdo husband will not consummate their marriage
"EFFIE GRAY" is the Bizarro World version of "50 Shades of Gray."
This is a movie, based on historical fact, about a young virgin who is pursued and corralled by a rich weirdo who then forces her not to have sex.
Effie (Dakota Fanning, not Dakota Johnson) is a Scot lass just 19 when she weds London art critic John Ruskin (John Sayles-lookalike Greg Wise).
Ruskin is a wealthy man and (at the time) a celebrated critic known for championing the career of J.M.W. Turner and others, but he's a dud in the sack, and refuses to consummate his marriage with the puzzled and eager Effie.
On their wedding night, she opens her nightgown to display her wares, he looks on in unexplained disgust and leaves the room. (Legal documents quote Ruskin as being put off by "certain circumstances in her person," which suggests something on the order of "The Crying Game," but apparently Effie's equipment was entirely in order).
A baffled and frustrated Effie accompanies Ruskin to decadent Venice, where he stays in his room while she goes out on the town with a lusty Italian chaperone, who in one silly scene asks her to handle his gondolier's pole.
Effie remains chaste, even when Ruskin then drags her to Scotland to share a cottage with handsome painter John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge), leading to many shots of Effie and Millais on the windswept moors trembling with unacknowledged desire. Or maybe it's just cold.
"Effie Gray" can be very corny, and that does not sit well with its solemn attempts to establish Effie as a feminist heroine.
Effie does indeed fight to emancipate herself from a terrible marriage, no easy task in patriarchal 19th-century England, and good for her.
Still, for a proto-feminist story, "Effie" is awfully unkind to Ruskin's mother (Julie Walters), vicious protector of her pampered and stage-managed son. She's Effie's most formidable adversary, and the movie's soapiest character.
History records that Effie wins her legal battle and marries Millais, though the movie strangely does not mention her most remarkable lifetime achievement - eight children!
Maybe they're saving that for the sequel "Effie 2: Making Up For Lost Time."