Fair Play review | Chloe Domont’s feature debut is a sizzling workplace drama

Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich in Fair Play.
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A couple’s relationship is put through the wringer after one of them gets a coveted promotion. Read our Fair Play review. 

While films about relationships are popular among filmmakers and even films about workplace romances, Chloe Domont’s Fair Play feels wholly unique in its exploration of power dynamics both in the workplace and a relationship. 

Emily (Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) both work at a competitive, borderline toxic investment firm. Their romance would be frowned upon, so they’re hiding it, but don’t be fooled, these two can barely keep their hands off each as is evident from a risky bathroom tryst at a family wedding early on in the film. 

Emily hears a rumour that Luke is in line for a big promotion, but when Emily gets promoted instead, the couple’s relationship is in jeopardy as Luke’s jealousy rears its ugly head. 

fair play phoebe dynevor

Credit: Netflix

Fair Play is Domont’s feature directorial debut, but you can’t really tell. Although the film feels a little bloated and its narrative is helplessly stretched, Domont steers it confidently. Some may describe it as an erotic thriller, but that would be to grossly misunderstand what Fair Play is about and what makes an erotic thriller… well, erotic. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of sex. Ehrenreich buries his head between Dynevor’s thighs within the first three minutes of the film and re-emerges with period blood all over his face, shirt and Dynevor’s dress. It’s a ballsy beginning for a film that never quite delivers on that early promise of boldness, but it certainly draws you into the film. Whether it can hold your attention for nearly two hours is a whole different thing. 

Domont seems unwilling to decide whether Fair Play is a thoughtful exploration of gender roles and power dynamics or a trashy, enjoyable thriller that owes a lot to the erotic thrillers of the 80s. The film often switches between the two modes and moods, but the film never captures what made films like Wall Street or Basic Instinct, both about money, sex and power and both starring Michael Douglas, so appealing. 

Thankfully, the cast is positively on fire. Dynevor, who at one point seemed in danger of being only known for the similarly naughty Bridgerton, is the emotional core of the film while Ehrenreich’s character is dangerously close to villain territory. The writing for Luke’s character lacks some of the nuance that is awarded to Emily, but Ehrenreich carves him out to be a man whose pride has taken a hit and who simply can’t let go of it. 

The script takes some huge leaps and despite such a long running time, Fair Play feels like it’s missing scenes, especially when it comes to the couple’s home life. As Emily’s professional reputation grows and their ruthless boss, played with unnerving menace by Eddie Marsan, takes a liking to her and Luke feels increasingly threatened, it’s hard to imagine the two sleeping in the same bed together. 

Domont makes a point of how the war between Luke and Emily – and it is a war – is fought both in the boardroom and their bedroom. Their intimacy all but disappears, despite Emily’s best efforts to reignite their spark and Luke spirals further out of control, leading to a shocking, if sudden ending. Domont clearly understands that power is always at play when it comes to sex and the couple is constantly renegotiating the power in their relationship; Emily apologises to Luke for getting the promotion, but Luke will always hold a certain degree of power over Emily, by default, thanks to his gender. It’s here that Fair Play is at its most interesting. 

Fair Play is a tantalising, seductive drama that never aims to be blatantly feminist, but a film with a more broad appeal – and that is a compliment. Domont shows great promise here, even if Fair Play is one script polish away from a truly magnificent motion picture. 

Fair Play is in UK cinemas now and available to stream on Netflix 6 October. 

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