• YEAR: 2023
  • DIRECTOR: Chloe Domont
  • KEY ACTORS: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich
  • IMDB SCORE: 6.4

SEX SCORE: 2.5/5
✔️ I’ve rarely had such a strong physical reaction to a movie but I do think it is rewatchable.
❓This needs a half mark because I’d absolutely fuck the cast at the beginning and I absolutely would not by the end!
✔️ Yes, it is sex positive. It shows sex at its best and worst, that’s pretty powerful.
❌ But it didn’t really inspire fantasies. It’s kind of awful.
❌ And it doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. There are a few other women, some of whom have names, but they tend to only talk about engagements and engagement parties so I don’t think it can count.

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING:  Netflix. For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

[Content warning: sexual violence, physical and emotional abuse, work place bullying]

Hi, hello, it’s me. I’m back! I started this blog back in 2019 when I was on maternity leave and about to start a research project, without any knowledge of what would come in the next few years – two babies, a miscarriage, a global pandemic, a thesis that took literally five years to write, family illness, and all sorts of job changes. And yes, these are all excuses for my inconsistent blog publishing! But I’m hoping that much of this has stabilised. The work side certainly has! So I’m hoping that I can commit to this project again as I did when I first started – with a regular publishing schedule at least!

And here is the first new post, originally published on Substack in December! I’m aiming to post something new here every other Wednesday with subscribers on Substack getting a sneak preview as they’ll be posted there on Mondays. And come and join me on BlueSky (@livvyagain.bsky.social) to chat about movies, among other things! I do check in on Twitter (@sexlovevideo) occasionally but it’s becoming a hellhole so I don’t like to spend too much there.

I hope you like the new posts, and thank you for your patience with all the long periods of silence!

For me, the greatest thrillers are the ones when you can see exactly what is going to happen but are absolutely powerless to stop it. You can see the error, the misplaced trust, the weak link, and you are just waiting for the whole thing to come crashing down. Admittedly, it is a risky strategy – when it doesn’t work, it’s awful. Predictable, disappointing, lazy. But when does it work? Fucking hell, they’re the best!

And, wow, does it work in Fair Play. I could feel my adrenaline and heart rate rising about 20 minutes into the film and it just got worse from there. I have rarely been so tense watching a movie and was genuinely experiencing palpitations at times. This movie is intense, and I absolutely loved it!

An image from Fair Play showing Luke carrying Emily and them both looking really happy

Fair Play starts by introducing its main characters, Emily (Dynevor) and Luke (Ehrenreich), sneaking away from a wedding party to have sex in a bathroom. Midway through giving Emily oral sex, they discover that she has come on her period and there’s blood everywhere! In this messy, happy, sexy moment, Luke proposes to Emily – and she accepts. Cut forward to their normal life and it turns out their relationship is a secret. Emily and Luke work for a hedge fund that has banned relationships between colleagues so they pretend to just work together during the day before going home to have sex all night. One day, an opportunity for promotion comes up and Emily overhears someone saying that Luke has been chosen. But, of coursehe doesn’t get the promotion; she does. And of course, Luke takes this really badly, becoming resentful and hostile and eventually violent towards her, accusing her of sleeping her way to success and then raping her in the bathroom during their ill-fated engagement party in a horrific mirroring of the opening scene. Throughout everything, Luke maintains his position as the wronged party until Emily literally stabs him in the arm, causing him to break down as she walks away.


I’ve realised that financial dramas cause something of a disproportionate emotional reaction in me. Industry is one of the best TV shows that I’ve seen in the past few years but I almost couldn’t watch it at times as it made me feel physically unwell. The anxiety involved in watching people gamble millions and millions of pounds of their own or, worse, someone else’s money on a whim or a game is almost unbearable! There are similar scenes in Fair Play and I had a similar physical reaction. I am just not built to work in finance!

But in Fair Play, the intense fearful anticipation of the outcomes of these unnecessarily huge financial decisions are swamped by a similarly intense anticipation of Luke’s fucking inevitable response to Emily’s success, and how this is going to impact their relationship.

Emily, looking all important and high powered in front of a number of financial screens for her job as a trader. (Or something, I don't know finance!!)

Because you could see what was going to happen from the moment Emily was offered the promotion. And you could tell from Emily’s demeanour and hesitation to tell Luke that she knew it too. This is such a great example of a #NotAllMen storyline because, of course, not all men would react in such a jealous and negative way to their fiancée becoming their boss but I’m pretty sure a lot would. I’m pretty sure enough men behave that way that it will ensure a lot of women would hesitate, would talk down their success and build up their partner, rather than purely celebrate their own achievement. And I’m pretty certain that a lot of women make adjustments to ensure that they’re never in that situation rather than reveal uncomfortable truths about the men they love. The Guardian even called it ‘a familiar fear within heterosexual relationships: that if you just push hard enough, the mask of the good guy will fall.’ 

Which is why I absolutely loved that Domont had made such an effort to show Luke as a quote-unquote ‘feminist’ early in the film with his acceptance of period sex.  He wasn’t disgusted by having a face covered in menstrual blood; he must be one of the good ones! It reminded me of the pilot for Rose Matefeo’s incredible romantic comedy series, Starstruckwhere I immediately fell in love with her protagonist Tom at his insistence that he was ‘an adult man’ and not afraid that his hook-up had come on her period. Except in Fair Play, it became a neat and effective way to show how performative Luke’s feminism was and how quickly it fell away when it was no longer benefiting him. ‘This isn’t really a film about female empowerment,’ Domont told Entertainment Weekly, ‘This is a film about male fragility.’

I’ve read some criticisms that Domont overplays her hand with Luke – both when he falls for an online ad for a confidence and leadership course that is heavily styled to remind us of Jordan Peterson and similar men’s rights activists, and because his expectations are shown to be entirely irrational. Luke is actually pretty bad at his job and his success to that point was due to nepotism, rather than skill. There was no way he was going to be promoted and should never have expected it! Perhaps Domont wanted to highlight exactly that – the danger in the blind expectations of mediocre men – but imagine how powerful his descent could have been if he had been truly Emily’s equal but she was still chosen over him.

Of course, Luke’s incompetence allowed Domont to explore another aspect of gender in the workplace that I found painfully effective. At one point, vaguely disguised as an offer of support, Luke tells Emily that she’d be taken more seriously if she didn’t dress ‘like a cupcake.’ I don’t know if he realised what a cruel statement he had made but I’m not sure I can think of a better way to casually undermine a female colleague who works in a male dominated industry. To link her appearance to something as frivolous as a cupcake immediately knocks Emily’s confidence in a way that has nothing to do with vanity but demonstrates an understanding of the delicate line that women have to walk to be taken seriously professionally; where appearance still has real impacts on your chances of success. We have to be professional (read masculine) but not frumpy or too boring. We have to be attractive, as beautiful people do better in almost all industries, but not so sexy as to be a threat. We mustn’t be too feminine, too…different from the dark suit wearing middle class cis straight white male ideal.

Luke, looking around a computer screen and looking worried

Luke’s incompetence and mistaken investment costs the firm $25 million (how can people work like this?!) and, as his boss, Emily is responsible for it. When she takes on this responsibility and apologises to her boss, Campbell, played with fabulous malice by Eddie Marsan, calls her a ‘dumb fucking bitch.’ Twice! The viciousness of Campbell’s abuse is shocking, even in a movie that is filled with misogyny, because it feels so personal and violent. And, of course, it’s gendered: ‘Campbell hires her because he thinks she’s a killer…He gives her this job opportunity because he sees her value regardless of gender. At the same time, as soon as she slips up, then he only sees her failure because of her gender.’ She succeeded despite being a woman but she failed because she is a woman.

But, devastatingly, this is sort of true… Emily is very good at her job and has instincts that have guided her to success previously, but now all this gendered expectation shit has got in the way. As soon as Luke commented on her appearance, she began to doubt herself. She tries to dress differently and loses her confidence. Her authority is dented and she lets Luke make a bad decision on her behalf because she isn’t able to say no to the man who has undermined her. She has lost faith in herself. She isn’t able to be The Boss, even when she knows she’s right! It’s so frustrating because it is so relatable and believable and awful.

It’s important to note that Emily isn’t a saint. She’s not perfect by any means. Although she initially tries to accommodate Luke’s feelings, her patience doesn’t last long and she ends up calling him pathetic later in the film. She also perpetuates sexist workplace behaviours by choosing to have her celebratory work night out at a strip club, throwing cash around like one of the boys. Her efforts to cheer Luke up are also absolutely mortifying and, at times, I even found myself sympathising with him, such is my internalised acceptance of the patriarchy.

Emily and Luke in a lift, looking conspiratorially at each other

But I like this. I like that she isn’t that perfect victim who is the only person to ever be believed. As Sean Fennessey put it in their review on The Big Picture podcast, Emily has flaws but ‘ultimately is right.’ She is mistreated at work and she does experience violent misogyny and her boyfriend is an absolute twat for acting the way he did, and she really does not deserve to be treated the way she was.

And this becomes more important because Emily also experiences sexual violence, and I loved loved loved how sex was used in Fair Play to literally hammer home Domont’s message about power imbalance and the nuances in sexual communication and miscommunication.

That first period sex scene was a perfect way to start the movie because it showed us so much about Emily and Luke’s characters – they’re playful, sexy, horny, and they have great chemistry. I believed them as a couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other, believed that they had a lot of sex in public places and places that aren’t their beds. And their sex looked fun and looked pleasurable for the character with a vulva – it passes the Clit Test after all!

An image from Fair Play of Emily and Luke looking at each other in a mirror as they embrace after a shower

Which is why using the later sex scene as a mirror to this was so powerful. Now, their sex is driven by anger. They are both so filled with emotion and energy and passion that, considering their sexual, playful history, it’s perhaps not surprising that this anger reveals itself in sexual energy. But this time, their sex isn’t about pleasure. As it so often correctly stated about sexual assault, this sex was about power and Luke taking advantage of the only way that he still has power over Emily. She has bested him at work, she has surpassed him financially, but he can still dominate her sexually, can physically overpower her. And he does.

I think the ending of Fair Play is kind of incredible. After this awful, powerful scene of sexual assault, Emily confronts Luke, explicitly telling him that he raped her, and Luke’s shock and denial felt really authentic. He genuinely didn’t think he had raped her! It’s another example of the power of rape culture and the status quo that underestimates the true extent of sexual violence against women – they’d been having angry sex and he chose to ignore her asking him to stop, but that wasn’t rape rape, surely? That doesn’t make him a rapist, does it?

But, of course, it does. It is rape and it’s so so important to see that on screen and it be made clear to everyone watching – to those men (#NotAllMen) who wouldn’t consider themselves capable of sexual violence but perhaps got carried away with the moment and didn’t listen to their partner’s no; and to the women who change their mind in the middle of sex and aren’t able to make it stop. Who could never actually report the rape because what law enforcement would believe them? Who perhaps no longer believe it themselves as society and the patriarchy try to convince us that what we’re feeling is wrong.

Again, Domont may have pushed the message too far by giving Emily a wound on her face to visualise the physical violence of Luke’s act on top of the sexual violence, when his refusal to stop should have been violent and violating enough. But again, would it have changed the response from the police if she’d reported him? Luke knew what he’d done on the day but still didn’t see the sexual violence until Emily wrought it back on him by stabbing him in the arm, making her pain and hurt and anger physically present in a way that he could not ignore.

Oh, this is such a powerful movie and, the more I think about it, the more I think that it is a great example of a wholly under-rated and under-represented genre – the erotic thriller from the female gaze.

Woefully few erotic thrillers are directed by women and there are even fewer successful ones – there are 56 films on this Letterboxd list but I have never heard of most of them and I spend quite a lot of time thinking about sex, movies and feminism! Some, like the two on the list that I have seen (Bound and In The Cut), reveal their female gaze by showing sex that is designed for a female viewer, that is sexier and hotter for the application of that female rather than male gaze.

I feel that Fair Play does do this but, more importantly, it uses the female gaze on its depictions of power! Because that’s what erotic thrillers are at their core – movies that use sex as a tool of power, to manipulate and dominate. Except traditionally, these movies show femme fatale figures using sex to dominate ordinary men for their own gain, exploiting a masculine fear of powerful women. Think Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Body Heat.  But these don’t show how that fear truly manifests itself towards women in a way that can be recognised in our everyday lives. Just as male gaze sex on screen is more like porn than actual sex, classic erotic thrillers don’t show how gender and power and sex interplay in a way that I can relate to and recognise.

An image from Fair Play of Emily and Luke looking angrily at each other

But I know the power play in Fair Play. I recognise the nuances of the battleground and lasting impact of the smallest of slights. That palpitation-inducing sense of inevitability that built throughout the whole film was there exactly because I recognise it and know it and fear it. And I know that Domont knows it too because she’s said repeatedly that she based Fair Play on her experiences of trying to work in Hollywood and succeed in a male dominated world: ‘Every industry, for the most part, is still a man’s industry. I’ve definitely faced challenges trying to rise up in that respect and can relate, but I feel like every woman can. I wanted to show all the ways in which women are forced to play ugly to survive in that world with those kinds of men.’

Her movie is called Fair Play because that’s what this is. That’s what’s necessary to get even close to parity in an unequal world. When men have all the power, sometimes you have to play ugly. But at what cost? That’s the movie’s final stroke of genius – the movie ends with Emily succeeding but I don’t think anyone would call her a winner. Luke is absolutely a loser, in all senses, but Emily hasn’t ’won’ in the same way. We can cheer her revenge on Luke, her power over him in the finale, but she doesn’t get to walk off into the sunset with her happy family like the men so often do in those classic erotic thrillers.

Because that’s not how life really works.

NEXT TIME… Anatomy of a Fall

Did you want to read my reviews a few days before they are published here, with some extra recommendations and short reviews of the movies I’ve watched recently? Follow my Substack newsletter by signing up below!!

Copyright All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.