Secretary (2002 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Shainberg
Screenplay byErin Cressida Wilson
Story by
  • Steven Shainberg
  • Erin Cressida Wilson
Based on"Secretary"
by Mary Gaitskill
Produced by
CinematographySteven Fierberg
Edited byPam Wise
Music byAngelo Badalamenti
  • Double A Films[1]
  • The Slough Pond Company[1]
  • TwoPoundBag Productions[1]
Distributed byLions Gate Films[1][2]
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[3]
Box office$9.3 million[4]

Secretary is a 2002 American erotic romantic comedy-drama film directed by Steven Shainberg from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the 1988 short story of the same name by Mary Gaitskill.[2][5][6] 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 activities such as erotic spanking and petplay.


Lee Holloway is the socially awkward and emotionally sensitive youngest daughter of a dysfunctional family. She adjusts to normal life after having been committed to a mental hospital following an incident of severe self-harm.

Lee 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.

The two soon 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. He is confused by her desire to be spanked. 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".[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[9] 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."[9] 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.[7]

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."[9] 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."[9]


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



The film premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Prize Award for Originality for Steven Shainberg.[11] It was subsequently acquired by Lionsgate Films for theatrical release.[12] It also went on to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival later that year.[13][14] The film opened in limited release on September 20, 2002, as well as in various foreign markets in 2003 and 2004.[13][4]

Home media[edit]

The film's region 1 DVD was released on April 1, 2003.[15] 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.[16] A Blu-ray Disc was released on October 4, 2010.[17]

Special features on the Blu-ray 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.[17]


Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 78% based on 157 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The website's critics consensus states, "Maggie Gyllenhaal impresses in this romantic comedy with a kinky twist."[18] 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".[19] 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."[20]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $4.1 million in the U.S and Canada, and $9.3 million worldwide.[4]


The film's exploration of a BDSM romantic relationship and Spader's character bearing the last name "Grey" have drawn comparisons to the 50 Shades of Grey franchise, with some suspecting the former inspired the E.L. James series.[21]

In the Discovery+ documentary series House of Hammer, it is alleged that Secretary was a favorite film of actor Armie Hammer.[22] Hammer allegedly screened the film for Courtney Vucekovich, one of the numerous women to come forward with sexual abuse allegations against the former actor.[23]


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[24] Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film Casting – Independent Ellen Parks Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[25] Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Won
British Independent Film Awards[26] Best Foreign Independent Film Nominated
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards[27] Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[28] Most Promising Performer Maggie Gyllenhaal (also for Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) Won
Chlotrudis Awards[29] Best Actor James Spader Nominated
Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Erin Cressida Wilson and Steven Shainberg Nominated
Deauville American Film Festival[13] Grand Prix Steven Shainberg Nominated
Empire Awards Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Fantasporto Best Actress (Directors' Week Award) Won
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards[30] 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[31] Best Breakthrough Performance Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[32] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Best Romance Won
Trashiest Nominated
Gotham Independent Film Awards[33] Breakthrough Performer Maggie Gyllenhaal Won
Independent Spirit Awards[34] Best Feature Nominated
Best Female Lead Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Best First Screenplay Erin Cressida Wilson Won
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards[35] Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Locarno International Film Festival[13] Golden Leopard Steven Shainberg Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Breakthrough Female Performance Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[36] Breakthrough Performance – Female Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards[37] Best Actress 2nd Place
Online Film & Television Association Awards[38] Best Breakthrough Performance: Female Won[b]
Online Film Critics Society Awards[39] 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 Best Actress in a Leading Role Nominated
Best Newcomer Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Nominated
Satellite Awards[40] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Sundance Film Festival[41] Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic Steven Shainberg Nominated
Special Jury Prize – Originality Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards[42] Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Runner-up
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards[43] Best Actress Nominated
Village Voice Film Poll[44] Best Lead Performance 6th Place
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards[45] 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".[46]

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".[47]

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 d Dargis, Manohla (September 20, 2002). "In Buoyant 'Secretary,' Romance for Consenting Adults". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 17, 2023. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Secretary (2002)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  3. ^ "Secretary (2002)". The Numbers. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Secretary (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  5. ^ Gaitskill, Mary (1988). Bad Behavior. New York: Poseidon Press. ISBN 978-0-6797-2327-1.
  6. ^ "Secretary leaves movie-goers bent over desks". The Johns Hopkins News-Letter. October 31, 2002.
  7. ^ a b Shainberg, Steven (2004), audio commentary to Secretary.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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).
  10. ^ "Secretary (2002)". Film Oblivion. November 5, 2022. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  11. ^ "REVIEW: Not Your Average "Secretary"; Shainberg's S&M Swooner Gets the Job Done". IndieWire. September 17, 2002. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  12. ^ Dunkley, Cathy (February 12, 2002). "Lions Gate promotes Shainberg's 'Secretary'". Variety. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  13. ^ a b c d "Secretary (2002) Awards & Festivals". MUBI. Retrieved January 7, 2022.
  14. ^ MacDonald, Gayle (September 19, 2002). "James Spader assumes the position". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  15. ^ Kipnis, Jill (March 22, 2003). "Painful Romance". Billboard. Vol. 15, no. 12. p. 69. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  16. ^ "Secretary - Releases". AllMovie. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  17. ^ a b "Secretary Blu-ray Review | High Def Digest". October 5, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  18. ^ Secretary at Rotten Tomatoes
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 27, 2002). "Secretary". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 7, 2022.
  20. ^ "MORIARTY Pretends To Be In TORONTO!! Reviews SECRETARY!!". Aint It Cool News. September 10, 2002.
  21. ^ Antone, Tiffany (January 28, 2015). "Proof that Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader are the original Anastasia and Christian". SheKnows. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  22. ^ Thompson, Eliza (September 2, 2022). "'House of Hammer' Uncovers Armie Hammer's Family Secrets: Murder and More". Us Weekly. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  23. ^ Wang, Lydia (October 28, 2022). "A Breakdown of Armie Hammer Allegations, Controversies, and Time-share Drama". Vulture. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  24. ^ "2003 Artios Awards". Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  25. ^ "BSFC Winners: 2000s". Boston Society of Film Critics. July 27, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  26. ^ "2003 BIFA Winners and Nominations". British Independent Film Awards. October 24, 2003. Retrieved December 23, 2021.
  27. ^ "Awards 2002". Central Ohio Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  28. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. January 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  29. ^ "9th Annual Chlotrudis Awards". Chlotrudis Society for Independent Films. Retrieved December 23, 2021.
  30. ^ "2002 FFCC AWARD WINNERS". Florida Film Critics Circle. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  31. ^ "2002 Gold Derby Film Awards". Gold Derby. March 7, 2016. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  32. ^ "Secretary – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  33. ^ "Past Recipients". Gotham Awards. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  34. ^ "36 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  35. ^ "Previous Sierra Award Winners". Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  36. ^ "2002 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  37. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. December 19, 2009. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  38. ^ "7th Annual Film Awards (2002)". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  39. ^ "2002 Awards (6th Annual)". Online Film Critics Society. January 3, 2012. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  40. ^ "International Press Academy website – 2003 7th Annual SATELLITE Awards". Archived from the original on February 1, 2008.
  41. ^ "2002 Sundance Film Festival". Sundance Film Festival. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  42. ^ "TFCA Awards 2002". Archived from the original on November 7, 2010.
  43. ^ "3rd Annual VFCC Award Winners". Vancouver Film Critics Circle. January 30, 2003. Retrieved January 30, 2003.
  44. ^ "2002 Village Voice Film Poll". Mubi. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  45. ^ "2002 WAFCA Awards". Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  46. ^ "Secretary (Music from the Motion Picture)". AllMusic. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  47. ^ Tonti, Jessica (November 7, 2005). "Largely overlooked songstress steers a mean chariot". The Pitt News. Retrieved January 7, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]