Secretary (film): Wikis


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Movie poster
Directed by Steven Shainberg
Produced by Andrew Fierberg
Amy Hobby
Steven Shainberg
Written by Erin Cressida Wilson
Mary Gaitskill
Steven Shainberg
Starring James Spader
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Cinematography Steven Fierberg
Editing by Pam Wise
Distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment
Release date(s) January 11, 2002
Running time 111 mins
Country United States
Language English

Secretary is a 2002 sadomasochism-themed romantic comedy-drama film directed by Steven Shainberg. It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway and James Spader as E. Edward Grey. The film is based on a short story from Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill.


Plot summary

Lee Holloway, the socially awkward and emotionally sensitive youngest daughter of a dysfunctional family, adjusts to normal life after having been hospitalized following an incident of dangerous self-harm. She learns to type, starts to date an acquaintance named Peter, and begins to work as a secretary for an eccentric attorney, E. Edward Grey, who hires her despite her stilted social skills and unprofessional appearance.

Though at first Grey appears highly irritated at Lee's typos and other innocuous mistakes, it soon becomes apparent that he is sexually aroused by her submissive behaviour. After he confronts her about her self-injury addiction and commands that she never hurt herself again, the two embark on a BDSM relationship. Lee experiences a sexual—and personal—awakening, and she falls deeply in love. Edward, however, displays insecurity concerning his feelings for Lee, and he shows shame and disgust over his sexual habits. After a sexual encounter in his office, he fires Lee.

Peter soon proposes to Lee, who reluctantly agrees to marry him. However, whilst trying on her wedding gown she leaves and runs to Edward's office where she declares her love for him. Edward, 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 eagerly complies. Days pass, as Peter, family members, and acquaintances individually visit Lee to alternately attempt to dissuade or encourage her. After three days, Edward returns to the office and takes Lee to his apartment where he bathes and nurtures her. The pair marry and happily continue their dominant/submissive relationship.


Many changes were made from Mary Gaitskill's original short story, which had to be significantly expanded and given greater depth in order to be made into a feature-length film. On the small scale, individual lines were changed, such as the protagonist's use of "I'm so stupid" in one instance becoming a fantasy-sequence cry of "I'm your Secretary," which the director thought far more "celebratory."[1] Additionally, the ending of the story was changed to give a more positive outcome to the relationship.

A relatively small, independent production, the filming of Secretary was not without mishaps. Notably, in one instance the film-makers accidentally obtained shooting rights for the wrong park. Gyllenhaal supposedly encouraged them to hastily shoot the required park scene anyway whilst crew members distracted the local police.



Initially screened at several 2002 film festivals, Secretary had its domestic theatrical release on the 20th September 2002 and was released in various foreign markets across 2003 and 2004.


The film's region 1 DVD was released on the 1st of April 2003. In the UK, a version by Tartan Video was released on the 5th of January 2004, followed by a budget edition by Prism Leisure on the 7th of February 2005.

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.



The film was generally received positively by critics. It currently has a rating of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 137 reviews.[2] 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"[3] and Ain't It Cool News commenting: "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]."[4]

Box office

Secretary grossed $4,059,680 domestically and $5,244,929 internationally, to a total of $9,304,609.


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


The pulp fiction-style cover art for the Secretary soundtrack album.

The film's soundtrack album was released on CD on the 8th of October 2002 with an MP3 download version released on the 11th of July 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".

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."

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

Further reading

  • Erin Cressida Wilson, Steven Shainberg, Secretary: A Screenplay. Soft Skull Press, 2003. ISBN 1-887128-19-0.


  1. ^ Shainberg, Steven (2004), audio commentary to Secretary.
  2. ^ Rotten Tomatoes (September 14, 2009), Secretary
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 27, 2002). Secretary
  4. ^ "Moriarty" (September 10, 2002). MORIARTY Pretends To Be In TORONTO!! Reviews SECRETARY!!

External links

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