American actress and model Dakota Johnson is playing Anastasia Steele in the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey.

American actress and model Dakota Johnson is playing Anastasia Steele in the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey. Photo: Reuters

It's Hollywood's oldest adage: save your best performance for the camera. This may explain why the US film studio Universal has unveiled a distinctly tame first clip from its highly anticipated raunchy blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey.

Largely off the back of a somewhat saucy best-selling novel, and a bunch of potboiler R18+ sequels, the film adaptation of of the book has been making noise in Hollywood for more than a year.

Northern Irish actor Jamie Dornan has replaced British actor Charlie Hunnam as the kinky Christian Grey in the big-screen adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Northern Irish actor Jamie Dornan plays the kinky Christian Grey. Photo: AP Photo

It lost a leading man in Charlie Hunnam, but replaced him with Jamie Dornan. Its leading lady is Dakota Johnson. And fans of the franchise are watching every step of the film's development like hawks.

Universal brought the footage to market, so to speak, screening a glimpse of the film to US cinema chain operators at their annual Las Vegas junket, CinemaCon - which is a week-long market for the theatrical distribution industry.

The studio's chairman, Donna Langley, told the crowd that Dornan and Johnson have "the kind of chemistry that could turn this into the next iconic romance".

Never mind the quasi-pornographic interplay between the couple in the books and its somewhat detailed exploration of the kinkier aspects of romance: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism.

The book, written by E.L. James, tells the story of a fiery sexual relationship between a young student Anastasia Steele and a handsome young billionaire Christian Grey.

Universal screened only a few minutes of footage at CinemaCon.

The scenes included glimpses of Anastasia wearing a blindfold and being pushed against a wall by Christian, but very little more than that, other than a flash of a riding crop; a hint of raunch, perhaps, but not much more than your average Jilly Cooper miniseries.

The only suggestion in the clip of Grey's darker side was Dornan telling Johnson (as Steele): "Hearts and flowers, that's not who I am."

The footage included at least one notable scene from the book: Anastasia's first meeting with Christian in his office. It also included glimpses of subsequent conversations: Anastasia describing him as smart, intense and courteous" and snippets of conversation from the pair's courtship, with an emphasis on romance.

In the US, reaction to the footage was mute, with most commentators curiosity piqued by the tameness of the material.

In one sense it reveals how Universal intends to market the film, particularly in the US where a film adaptation of the biblical fable of Noah has caused controversy over its adherence to "the truth".

A tamer-than-expected glimpse of a film like Fifty Shades of Grey would also allay any concerns that the owners and operators of US cinema chains might have that in taking on they were taking on a contentious or controversial property.

Langley said Dornan and Johnson were "brave, bold actors".

Fifty Shades of Grey is released next year.