Lavish, Sensuous Masquerade Ball at Centerpiece of “Fifty Shades Darker”


A good deal of the fantasy of the Fifty Shades world is grounded by the glossy, but not unrealistic, look envisioned by the teams of inventive film artisans charged with taking the words on the page and converting them into cinematic reality.

Perhaps the largest sequence in Fifty Shades Darker demanding ‘all stops out’ for the design teams was the masquerade ball, thrown by the Grey family as a fundraiser for their charity, Coping Together.

According to E L James, when she wrote the event, basing it on her own experiences organizing two masquerade balls, her vision was slightly different from what came to be created. She says: “I had always seen it as a sort of pastel-y affair, very restrained. Then, when [production designer] Nelson Coates was doing the show-and-tell for his design, he started saying things like ‘Venice’ and ‘gondolas,’ and I thought, ‘Amazing!’ It was extraordinary. The location itself, it’s lavish, it’s sensuous, it’s Nelson going all out, and [costume designer] Shay Cunliffe matched that with the costumes. It looked fabulous. It was the sort of event where you think, ‘I wish I were there!’”

Coates looked to the Mecca of Masquerade, Venice, and its myriad of pop-up balls during their world-famous Carnevale: “They take old mansions and they pop in and do amazing elegant centerpieces, tables and things. I wanted to get the flavor of Venice into Seattle—we quickly did up elements from St. Mark’s Square, like gondolas, along with little tips of the hat to the colors and flavor that would be seen during high season in Venice.”

The ball is held in a tent behind the Grey family mansion, and while it may look that way onscreen, the actual ball was created inside a much more welcoming space (inside the Vancouver Convention Centre, along the waterfront, which accommodated the ornate event plus all of the mechanics necessary for filming), transformed into the inside of a huge tent, down to the re-creation of a beautiful old Venetian cathedral floor, which covered the convention floor while adding a beautiful detail—the pattern even camouflaged the ‘spike’ marks for cameras, lighting, actors and the like.
Hundreds of masks were also purchased from some of the classic makers in Venice, each chosen mindful of that fact that a mask has become synonymous with Fifty Shades Darker (it is the key feature in the cover art for the novel). And as a symbol of the individuals in this fantasy world, a mask is perhaps the most apt, particularly for the characters populating the feature Darker.

Leonard affirms: “All through the story—not just at the gala—everybody is wearing masks. Christian wears a mask of the cold, calculating businessman, who’s actually a damaged child inside. Jack wears a mask of the affable, lovable, well-adjusted guy, when, in point of fact, he is anything but. And Ana wears a mask of an innocent ingénue, who’s really got her own concealed desires that become revealed in the course of the story.”

The gown created for Ana (Dakota Johnson) is by fashion designer Monique Lhuillier in collaboration with Shay Cunliffe.

The team also had to tackle the large task of outfitting the 250 extras. To achieve the desired look of “a real, over-the-top masquerade ball,” it was decided to mix in some costume pieces along with formal party wear, with some guests sporting 1980s couture (“much more extreme than our current tastes,” comments the designer).

The leading men add austerity by being covered in designer evening wear (e.g. Dornan sports Burberry, Andrew Airlie as Mr. Grey in Zegna). And everyone is masked, naturally.

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson return as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades Darker, the second chapter based on the worldwide bestselling Fifty Shades phenomenon. Expanding upon events set in motion in 2015’s blockbuster film that grossed more than $560 million globally, the new installment arrives for Valentine’s Day and invites you to slip into something a shade darker.
When a wounded Christian Grey tries to entice a cautious Ana Steele back into his life, she demands a new arrangement before she will give him another chance. As the two begin to build trust and find stability, shadowy figures from Christian’s past start to circle the couple, determined to destroy their hopes for a future together.

Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley (Fear, House of Cards) and once again produced by Michael De Luca, Dana Brunetti and Marcus Viscidi, alongside E L James, the creator of the culture-spanning blockbuster series. The screenplay is by Niall Leonard, based on the book by James.

Opening across the Philippines on February 8, Fifty Shades Darker is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.


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