It turns out Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James won’t be penning the screenplay to the sequel after all—her husband will. We learned in February that, after a tumultuous production of her best selling novel adaptation, James was demanding more control over the sequel in the form of penning the adaptation herself. The first film has now grossed over $568 million worldwide, which is insanely impressive for an R-rated movie, so Universal and Focus Features basically have to move forward with the follow-up—they can’t leave that money lying on the table. Their solution? A “compromise” of sorts with James.
Per THR, James’ husband Niall Leonard, himself an author and screenwriter, has been tapped to write the screenplay for Fifty Shades Darker. Apparently Leonard did some uncredited work on the script for Fifty Shades of Grey (screenwriter Kelly Marcel and James reportedly clashed during the development of the script) so he’s worked in this world before. In addition to the Cruiser book series, Leonard’s credits include the British TV series Air Force One Is Down and Wire in the Blood. This is more than a little ridiculous, but to be fair, this is all on Focus and Universal for giving James so much (contractually obligated) creative control in the first place.
Things have not been progressing too swimmingly on the follow-up. In addition to Marcel, director Sam Taylor-Johnson is also not coming back for the sequel, and stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson are negotiating for larger salaries on the follow-up (though that’s standard procedure for franchises—Jennifer Lawrence did the same on Hunger Games).
There was plenty to admire in Fifty Shades of Grey and certain points of the film were downright promising, but it was ultimately drowned out by a slavish devotion to the source material. With the independent creative voices now gone from the franchise, there’s little hope of things improving on the follow-up, unless Focus and Universal enlist a really interesting filmmaker to direct. However, James has made it pretty clear that she’s calling the shots from here on out, so I’m not exactly holding my breath.