My Mistress: movie review

Long long overdue, though to be fair, the movie wasn’t actually released here until November

I was emotionally engaged from the start with Charlie as a character.

Harrison Gilbertson (who’s actually 21) is wonderful as the 16 year old boy struggling with events in his life. He has an amazingly expressive face that leans towards vulnerability easily, and he plays a very vulnerable character. I could not stop searching his face for hints of what was going on with him. He delivers just the right notes of hurt, angry, confused and throws some beautiful cheekiness in at times also. I found him immensely appealing.

By contrast I found Emmanuelle Béart’s character, Maggie, to be unsympathetic. She was brittle and unpredictable and I think she found in Charlie the first kind of ‘unconditional love’ that she had ever had. It wasn’t unconditional, of course, but I think she felt it that way and she wasn’t sure what to do with that.

Both characters are horribly flawed and behave terribly which is more understandable in the boy than in the woman. To a point I made before, though: you can’t have a story about happy healthy people in happy healthy relationships and have anything to show on film.

The development of the relationship doesn’t quite gel for me. Despite a scene of Charlie masturbating furiously in the shower over Maggie, and him declaring her ‘amazing’ and ‘magnificent’, there is no feeling of any kind in it. No affection, no lust, no love… rather, there’s a strange detachment that makes the unfolding events seem contrived.


It is not a movie about BDSM. I also didn’t get a ‘BDSM as therapy’ vibe from it at all (the description of it makes no sense to me now that I’ve seen the movie). It was more that BDSM was her job, he liked her, and he confused her job with ‘who she was’. She demurred, but then went along to an extent, and from there they developed a bit of a co-dependent relationship. There was a mother/son, mistress/sub, older woman/younger man mix going on there. It was more of a ‘lost souls finding solace’ story than anything.

She’s a pro-Domme with all the trimmings, and we see that, but it’s not the focus of the film. There are some hints that she has an interest in dominating outside of her profession (with him anyway), but it isn’t really made all that clear. I saw indications of it, but whether it was intentional or simply how she behaved when she was protecting herself is hard to say. She was deeply broken and flawed so it was hard to form a full picture of who she was.

There were some really disappointing BDSM scenes which were totally in character but did not represent BDSM well. The boy giggling in secret at some puppy play with a client and her allowing it, so they were both making fun of the submissive behind his back. Her losing control when giving him a beating (which was at least a way to see his lovely face in pain… oh my).

But there were some erotic D/s moments as well which showed a really sweet interplay between a dominant and her boy. He liked HER and his interest in BDSM was to please her (though his version of ‘pleasing her’ seemed misplaced). There were some sweet scenes with him seeking comfort, particularly looking to lay his head in her lap. There was also a really fun (and funny) scene by the pool where she served him tea and she kept hitting him with a crop because he had no manners. He was shocked and surprised “What?! FUCK!” and she tried to keep a straight face, but they were both affected and amused by it. It was really quite lovely. I thought those scenes were well done, and had relatively realistic overtones.

It was less a ‘BDSM as healing’ story and more a ‘finding comfort where you least expect it’ story about dealing with grief and anger and sadness. Overall I enjoyed it, but if you were hoping for a representation of relationship-based D/s or love-based BDSM you will be sorely disappointed.

Loves: 5
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  1. Thanks, very thoughtful review.

    I suspected a lot of what you said in an outline type of way, but it is really helpful to have the details and the good and bad to ponder.


    1. There’s so little BDSM content out there that I’m always keen to see any of it.

      I’m looking forward to seeing Duke of Burgundy.


  2. Nice review, Ferns! I found the Maggie character more sincere. My take was that the beautiful subtle dynamics between them were the real deal, but the age difference kept her from feeling like she could fully take him in as a submissive lover, and that was what caused some of the awkwardness in their play, of which there was so little. They were dealing with issues and they had an age discrepancy that, at least, she wasn’t comfortable with. Had these things not been present, they would, in my interpretation of the characters, have had a lovely female-led relationship that would, as you point out, made for a dull two-hour movie.

    “so they were both making fun of the submissive behind his back.” – Yes, glad you pointed that out. An unfortunate decision made by the filmmakers to not do more with that opportunity.

  3. I watched this movie on iTunes last night – I went looking for it after reading your review. :)

    Overall it was quite enjoyable, but I felt that, as is so often the case, the trailer for the movie was deceptive in implying a more sexual, BDSM-related flavour than was in fact the case. The snag with that is that it can often undermine what enjoyment the viewer might have had, as the movie doesn’t fit the implied description.

    As you noted, both of the principal characters were hurt and damaged to a certain degree. I had a certain amount of sympathy for Maggie, as she seemed to be in a really painful dilemma. Trying to satisfy the authorities that she was fit to regain custody of her child whilst simultaneously working as a professional dominatrix seemed a bit of a hard sell, or at least it would be in the UK!

    I too enjoyed the “tea by the pool” scene, and for me that was the most realistically BDSM part of the movie. I was very disappointed with the “puppy” scene with Charlie sniggering in the coffin. For me that undermined my ability to take Charlie’s apparent desire for Maggie’s attentions as his “Mistress” with much seriousness.

    All in all, as an exploration of hurt people trying to rebuild their lives (Charlie, Charlie’s mother, and Maggie) it was thoughtful and interesting, even sympathetic. It’s a shame that the BDSM aspect wasn’t treated with as much sympathy and understanding, but at least it wasn’t given the usual “hollywood” slant! That said, there was to my mind a general pervading view that her “clients” were all twisted in some way and in need of something which she didn’t fully understand, i.e. that they were not “normal” and that she was simply meeting their need rather than deriving any enjoyment from it for herself. That’s putting it too strongly as there were counter-indications, but I felt that was the underlying tone of Maggie’s response to Charlie’s question about why she did it.

    Sorry, I’ve rambled on a bit!

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