Joe Wright Reportedly First Choice to Direct ’50 Shades of Grey’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Rumors have been buzzing for months about who will star in the upcoming film version of E.L. James's steamy bestseller "50 Shades of Grey." But on Friday a reputable source served up inside information on something just as important in bringing the story to the screen: who will direct the film.

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Joe Wright is in talks to direct "50 Shades," and is the front runner among the decision makers at Focus Features and Universal Pictures, who snapped up the film rights to the novel.

Wright is a British director who has won praise for his stylish and thoughtful literary adaptations, usually dominated by female characters, including "Anna Karenina," Pride and Prejudice," and "Atonement." Wright frequently works with Kiera Knightley, whose name has been bandied about as a possible candidate to play Anastasia Steele -- though the actress has said she has no interest in the role. Wright also has a solid working relationship with Focus, having released three of his best-known features.

While the article cautioned that no deal has been signed as of yet, Wright seems like an intelligent choice for the project. Wright clearly knows how to work well with actors, and given that Anastasia is the real key to the story, his knack for drawing strong performances from female talent is a real plus. He's also no stranger to stories that deal with love in an emotionally intense manner, and like novelist James and screenwriter Kelly Marcel, he's British, which couldn't hurt. And it has been suggested Focus wants to soften the book's kinkier aspects with an arty approach, and Wright can clearly deliver on that score.

Other directors have been reported to be in talks for "50 Shades," including Bennett Miller ("Moneyball," "Capote") and Patty Jenkins ("Monster"), and Gus Van Sant ("Milk," "Good Will Hunting") was supposedly keen enough on the project that he shot some test scenes, with Alex Pettyfer as Christian Grey. But if what the Hollywood Reporter says in true, Joe Wright is likely to be the one behind the camera when filming begins on "50 Shades of Grey." Now people can go back to sharing their ideas on who will play Anastasia and Christian, which has become nearly as popular on the Internet as videos of cats.

Update: While the Hollywood Reporter appears to be standing by their story that Joe Wright is the frontrunner for directing "50 Shades of Grey," Mike Fleming Jr. on the movie news site is citing his own inside sources who insist that isn't the case. According to Fleming, while the producers have a script ready, they're still in the early stages of their search for a director, with no clear favorite yet. And while several filmmakers are apparently in talks, Wright isn't one of them, having been ruled out due to scheduling conflicts. Since no one on the production speaks on the record in either story, this looks like a classic case of "he/she said, she/he said," and we'll have to wait until someone at Focus or Universal steps forward to call this confirmed for either side.