Secretary (2002 film)

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Secretary (2002).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Shainberg
Screenplay byErin Cressida Wilson
Story bySteven Shainberg
Erin Cressida Wilson
Based onSecretary
by Mary Gaitskill[1]
Produced byAndrew Fierberg
Amy Hobby
Steven Shainberg
StarringJames Spader
Maggie Gyllenhaal
CinematographySteven Fierberg
Edited byPam Wise
Music byAngelo Badalamenti
Secretary, Inc.[1]
Distributed byLions Gate Films[1]
Release dates
  • January 11, 2002 (2002-01-11) (Sundance)
  • September 20, 2002 (2002-09-20) (United States)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million[2]
Box office$9.3 million[3]

Secretary is a 2002 American erotic black comedy romantic drama film directed by Steven Shainberg and written by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the short story Secretary by Mary Gaitskill.[4][5] Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, the film explores the intense relationship between a dominant lawyer and his submissive secretary, who indulge in various types of BDSM activity such as erotic spanking and Petplay.


Lee Holloway, the socially awkward and emotionally sensitive youngest daughter of a dysfunctional family, adjusts to normal life after having been committed to a mental hospital following an incident of dangerous self-harm. She learns to type and applies for a job as a secretary for an eccentric yet demanding attorney, E. Edward Grey. Grey explains she is overqualified for the job (having scored higher than anyone he has ever interviewed) and that it is "very dull work" as they only use typewriters; Lee, however, agrees to work under these conditions.

Though at first Grey appears to be highly irritated by Lee's typos and other mistakes, it soon becomes apparent that he is sexually aroused by her obedient behavior. When Grey discovers her propensity for self-harm, he confronts her and commands that she never hurt herself again. Soon the two embark on a BDSM relationship from their typical employer-employee relationship. However, Lee experiences a sexual and personal awakening through the sadomasochistic sexual encounters with Grey, and she falls deeply in love with him. Conversely, Grey displays insecurity concerning his feelings for Lee, as well as shame and disgust over his sexual habits. During this period of exploration with Grey, Lee has also been attempting to have a more conventional boyfriend in Peter, even engaging in lukewarm sex with him. After a sexual encounter in Grey's office, Grey fires Lee.

Peter then proposes to Lee, who reluctantly agrees to marry him. However, while trying on her wedding gown, she leaves and runs to Grey's office to declare her love for him. Grey, still uncertain about their relationship, tests Lee by commanding her to sit in his chair without moving her hands or feet until he returns. Lee willingly complies, despite being forced to wet her dress since she is not allowed to use the toilet. Hours pass, as several family members and acquaintances individually visit Lee to alternately attempt to dissuade or encourage her while Grey watches from afar, completely taken by Lee's compliance. Her refusal to leave the office draws the attention of the media, which they believe to be a hunger strike. Three days later, Grey returns to the office and takes Lee to a room upstairs where he bathes and feeds her. The pair marry and happily continue their dominant–submissive relationship.



Many changes were made from Mary Gaitskill's original short story, which was significantly expanded and given greater depth to be made into a feature-length film. Lines of dialogue were changed; Lee's statement "I'm so stupid" became the fantasy-sequence cry "I'm your secretary", which the director thought far more "celebratory".[6] Additionally, the ending of the story was changed to give a more positive outcome to the relationship. Steven Shainberg stated that he wished to show that BDSM relationships can be normal and was inspired by the film My Beautiful Laundrette, which he feels normalized gay relationships for audiences in the 1980s.[7]

A central component to the film, the office spaces of Edward and Lee, took form after two years of planning by Shainberg and production designer Amy Danger, who had collaborated with Shainberg on several projects.[8] The desire to have the office feel homemade and express Edward's interest in the growing of plants led Danger to juxtapose a natural decor in the office with a predominantly artificial outside world.[8] Speaking of her choices, Danger compares the office with the rest of the film's locations: "All the materials I used [in the office] were natural: natural wood, bamboo, ironwork ... If I wasn't using natural materials, it was natural colors, like [in] the botanical wallpaper." In contrast, "everything [in the larger world] was fake ... I covered Lee's house in plastic sheeting, and used artificial, manufactured colors."[8] Although the interior sets were carefully constructed, the filmmakers did face some location-related challenges. Notably, in one instance the filmmakers accidentally obtained shooting rights for the wrong park. Gyllenhaal encouraged them to hastily shoot the required park scene anyway, without permission, while crew members distracted the local police.[6]

Speaking about Secretary's tone and atmosphere, Danger says "With this S&M material, we could go into a dark place... Steve and I wanted the total opposite: that the nature of this relationship freed [the characters] to be their natural selves."[8] Because of this atmosphere, Danger says "Everybody kept saying, 'When are we going back to the office?' It was funny, because the rooms weren't any smaller in the house, and it wasn't any more difficult to shoot. It was because you wanted to be in that space."[8]


Despite being set in Florida, filming took place in Los Angeles.[9][10]



The film was initially screened at several 2002 film festivals and had its domestic theatrical release on September 20, 2002, and in various foreign markets in 2003 and 2004.[11]

Home media[edit]

The film's region 1 DVD was released on April 1, 2003. In the UK, a version by Tartan Video was released on January 5, 2004, followed by a budget edition by Prism Leisure on February 7, 2005. A UK Blu-ray Disc release was scheduled for September 13, 2010.[citation needed]

Special editions of the DVD include the film's trailer and TV spots, cast and director interviews, a behind-the-scenes documentary, cast and director "Curricula Vitae" and an audio commentary by director Steven Shainberg and writer Erin Cressida Wilson.[citation needed]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 78% "Fresh" based on 157 reviews, with an average rating of 6.80/10. The site's consensus states: "Maggie Gyllenhaal impresses in this romantic comedy with a kinky twist."[12] Many critics noted the film's original take on themes of sadomasochism, with Roger Ebert saying that the film "approaches the tricky subject ... with a stealthy tread, avoiding the dangers of making it either too offensive, or too funny".[13] Ain't It Cool News commented: "Perhaps there is something bold about saying that pain can bring healing as long as it's applied by the right hand, but even that seems obvious and even normal thanks to Gyllenhaal."[14]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $4.1 million in the U.S and Canada, and $9.3 million worldwide.[3]


Secretary was nominated for a number of awards and won several, with numerous wins for Maggie Gyllenhaal's breakthrough performance.

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Artios Awards Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film Casting – Independent Ellen Parks Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[15] Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Won
British Independent Film Awards[16] Best Foreign Independent Film Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards[17] Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[18] Most Promising Performer Maggie Gyllenhaal (also for Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) Won
Chlotrudis Awards[19] Best Actor James Spader Nominated
Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Erin Cressida Wilson and Steven Shainberg Nominated
Deauville American Film Festival Grand Prix Steven Shainberg Nominated
Empire Awards Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Fantasporto Best Actress (Directors' Week Award) Won
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards[20] Pauline Kael Breakout Award Won
Golden Orange for Outstanding Contribution to Film Amy Hobby (also for Thirteen Conversations About One Thing)[a] Won
Gold Derby Awards[21] Best Breakthrough Performance Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[22] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Best Romance Won
Trashiest Nominated
Gotham Independent Film Awards[23] Breakthrough Performer Maggie Gyllenhaal Won
Independent Spirit Awards[24] Best Feature Nominated
Best Female Lead Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Best First Screenplay Erin Cressida Wilson Won
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards[25] Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Locarno International Film Festival Golden Leopard Steven Shainberg Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Breakthrough Female Performance Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[26] Breakthrough Performance – Female Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards[27] Best Actress 2nd Place
Online Film & Television Association Awards[28] Best Breakthrough Performance: Female Won[b]
Online Film Critics Society Awards[29] Best Actress Nominated
Best Breakthrough Performance Won
Paris Film Festival Grand Prix Steven Shainberg Nominated
Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Won
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards[30] Best Actress in a Leading Role Nominated
Best Newcomer Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Nominated
Satellite Awards[31] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Sundance Film Festival[32] Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic Steven Shainberg Nominated
Special Jury Prize – Originality Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards[33] Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Runner-up
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards[34] Best Actress Nominated
Village Voice Film Poll[35] Best Lead Performance 6th Place
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards[36] Best Actress Runner-up


The film's soundtrack album was released on CD on October 8, 2002, with an MP3 download version released on July 11, 2006. The soundtrack album contains Angelo Badalamenti's score as well as two songs that were notably featured over erotic montages in the film: Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" and Lizzie West's "Chariots Rise".[citation needed]

The song "Chariots Rise" was changed slightly for the film, with the lyric "what a fool am I, to fall so in love" changed to "what grace have I, to fall so in love".[37]

Track listing

All tracks by Angelo Badalamenti unless otherwise stated.

  1. "I'm Your Man" – Leonard Cohen
  2. "Main Title"
  3. "Feelin' Free"
  4. "Snow Dome Dreams"
  5. "Bathing Blossom"
  6. "Seeing Scars"
  7. "Loving to Obey"
  8. "Office Obligations"
  9. "The Loving Tree"
  10. "Orchids"
  11. "Secretary's Secrets"
  12. "Chariots Rise" – Lizzie West

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For consistent excellence and adventurousness in film production.
  2. ^ Tied with Nia Vardalos for My Big Fat Greek Wedding.


  1. ^ a b c "Secretary (2002)". American Film Institute. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  2. ^ "Secretary (2002)". The Numbers. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Secretary (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  4. ^ Bad Behavior (1988), by Mary Gaitskill, ISBN 978-0-679-72327-1.
  5. ^ "Secretary leaves movie-goers bent over desks".
  6. ^ a b Shainberg, Steven (2004), audio commentary to Secretary.
  7. ^ Shainberg, Steven, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Erin Cressida Wilson, James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies, et al. 2003. (Secretary) "Behind the Secretary". [United States]: Studio Home Entertainment.
  8. ^ a b c d e John Calhoun. (2002, October). Spank You Very Much. Entertainment Design, 36(10), 8-10. Retrieved April 1, 2011, from Research Library Core. (Document ID: 204894041).
  9. ^ Secretary (2002) - IMDb, retrieved 2020-01-04
  10. ^ Secretary (2002) - IMDb, retrieved 2020-01-04
  11. ^ "Secretary (2002 film)". IMDB. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  12. ^ Secretary at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 27, 2002). "Secretary". Chicago Sun-Times.
  14. ^ "Moriarty" (September 10, 2002). MORIARTY Pretends To Be In TORONTO!! Reviews SECRETARY!!
  15. ^ "BSFC Winners: 2000s". Boston Society of Film Critics. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  16. ^ "2003 BIFA Winners and Nominations". British Independent Film Awards. Retrieved December 23, 2021.
  17. ^ "Awards 2002". Central Ohio Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  18. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  19. ^ "9th Annual Chlotrudis Awards". Chlotrudis Society for Independent Films. Retrieved December 23, 2021.
  20. ^ "2002 FFCC AWARD WINNERS". Florida Film Critics Circle. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  21. ^ "2002 Gold Derby Film Awards". Gold Derby. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  22. ^ "Secretary – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  23. ^ "Past Recipients". Gotham Awards. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  24. ^ "36 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  25. ^ "Previous Sierra Award Winners". Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  26. ^ "2002 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  27. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  28. ^ "7th Annual Film Awards (2002)". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  29. ^ "2002 Awards (6th Annual)". Online Film Critics Society. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  30. ^ "PFCS Awards – 2002". IMDb. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  31. ^ "International Press Academy website – 2003 7th Annual SATELLITE Awards". Archived from the original on 1 February 2008.
  32. ^ "2002 Sundance Film Festival". Sundance Film Festival. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  33. ^ "TFCA Awards 2002". Archived from the original on 2010-11-07.
  34. ^ "3rd Annual VFCC Award Winners". Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Retrieved January 30, 2003.
  35. ^ "2002 Village Voice Film Poll". Mubi. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  36. ^ "2002 WAFCA Awards". Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  37. ^ "Secretary (2002) - IMDb". IMDB. Retrieved 3 April 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]