It started life in 2011: a romantic, erotically tinged novel by British author E. L. James. Fifty Shades of Grey was the first instalment in the Fifty Shades trilogy tracing the relationship between young, inexperienced college graduate Anastasia Steele and cold business magnate Christian Grey… who introduces her to the world of BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism). A complicated love affair ensues… over the course of three books.

The books received mixed reviews, with most on the negative side. Author Salman Rushdie was among its detractors, reportedly saying the first instalment made “Twilight look like War and Peace”. Most literary critics condemned its poor writing, dull story and weak characters.

However, readers the world over didn’t care and James clearly touched a nerve and filled a void, as fans threw themselves into the bosom of the first book and its follow-ups, clearly revelling in their wild, romantic and erotic fantasies. The reception by fans has propelled the trilogy to the top of bestseller lists around the world, selling hundreds of millions of copies overall and being translated into over 50 languages.

It was inevitable that Hollywood would snap up the film rights. The big-screen version of Fifty Shades of Grey, starring relative newbies at the time Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as Christian and Anastasia respectively, and directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, was released on February 13, 2015. Its follow-up, Fifty Shades Darker, was released on February 10, 2017 and this week saw the release of the third instalment Fifty Shades Freed.

Like its literary predecessors, critics were not terribly enamoured with either of the first two film adaptations. Undaunted, the fans of the books flocked to cinemas worldwide. Many of those who had resisted the books clearly wanted to see what the fuss was all about – and in all likelihood to see how far the films would go in projecting the fantasies that emerged from James’s keyboard onto the big screen.

This is an epic love story, but we do our best to keep it grounded and relatable

As was to be expected, audiences thumbed their noses at the critics once again, the films so far earning a not-to-be-sneezed at $952 million for the first two. This next instalment is projected to bring in a few hundred million more.

Believing they have left behind shadowy figures from their past, newlyweds Christian and Ana embrace an inextricable connection and shared life of luxury. But just as Ana steps into her role as Mrs Grey and Christian relaxes into an unfamiliar stability, new threats could jeopardise their happy ending before it even begins.

Negative reviews aside, both Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson earned some praise for their work on the movies and, of course, the duo gamely return for Fifty Shades Freed.

Says Johnson on her character in the film: “In Freed, there’s more suspense, more of a thriller aspect, with additional characters and more action – all of that is intertwined with the love story.  A love story that has evolved and deepened. Anastasia and Christian are married, and Anastasia has received a promotion, raising the intensity of both her private and professional life.”

Adds the actress: “This is an epic love story, but we do our best to keep it grounded and relatable. It’s one of those inexplicable connections between two people that is completely undeniable. Throughout these stories, you find the protagonists faced with situations that require one or both of them to bend their wills and adapt to their version of love.”

When the trilogy begins, Anastasia is this young girl who was extremely naïve and not really focused on her looks, yet. As Johnson explains, in Freed “you have a manicured and elegant young woman who is the boss in her professional and private life.  She understands her body and sexuality. She is forthright and confident and that all translates through her appearance”.

Also returning from the previous Fifty Shades films are Academy-Award winner Marcia Gay Harden, Eric Johnson Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie Bruce Altman and Robinne Lee, who are joined for the first time by Arielle Kebbel and Brant Dougherty. The film is directed by Fifty Shades Darker’s James Foley. The screenplay is by Niall Leonard, based on the novel by James.