Preaching to the Perverted (1997)

“I woo no man.”

Henry Harding (Tom Bell), a right-wing British politician sends innocent young Peter (Christien Anholt) undercover to penetrate the seamy side of London’s S&M clubs. Harding is on a moral crusade to shut such clubs down. But, first he needs hard evidence. Enter Peter, the hapless son of Harding’s cleaning lady. Peter is naive, and desperate enough to do whatever it takes to get ahead in his career, so he eagerly takes the job. Harding buys Peter the necessary accoutrements to enter the S&M world–this includes lots of leather, sunglasses, and a hidden camera.

Peter infiltrates the world of American dominatrix, Tania Cheex (Guinevere Turner), and what a naughty world it is. Tania likes a specific type–slavish, devoted, and ready to accept discipline. It’s soon clear that Peter REALLY likes the job–probably more than he should. He’s converted to the world of S&M.

The film Preaching to the Perverted is nice to look at. It’s glossy and glamorous in a leather-and-chains sort of way. The decor and pulsing motion within the club are very well done. There’s the world inside the club, and the world outside. Inside is inhabited with leather clad, pierced, tattooed adventurous types jostling to gawk at the latest on-stage atrocity. And the world outside is inhabited with fellow perverts–they’re just too timid to acknowledge their inner desires. Tania is slick, beautiful and oh so cruel. Peter is the innocent, inexperienced lad who’s eager to get his next lesson from his new mistress. It’s all supposed to be good fun, and the plot is handled with an amused tongue-in-cheek attitude. Unfortunately the characters are all stereotypical, so the film’s treatment of the subject matter remains superficial.

Writer and director, Stuart Urban, made the film after attending obscenity trials in London against people involved in various fetish clubs. Unfortunately, there’s no analysis here–just titillation and voyeurism, and while entertaining, the film inevitably limits itself. There’s one scene in which a milkman retrieves his child, rather abruptly, from the polluting influence of the pavement outside the club. I almost expected the child to say “look dad, a pervert” while watching a heaving Peter upchuck the contents of his stomach. The line did not exist in the script, but the film’s superficial treatment of fetish clubs is firmly based in the ‘look at the pervert’ territory. For a piece of fetish whimsy, Preaching to the Perverted is a pretty way to idle away an evening, but it’s yet another film to enter the annals of superficial and titillating treatment of human desires.

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