In Brief

The English vice: Why do we love talking about spanking?

Keira Knightley says only England is fixated on A Dangerous Method's sadomasochistic scenes

Keira Knightley

WHY are the English so besotted with spanking, asks Keira Knightley. The actress says she almost turned down the role of mental patient Sabina Spielrein in David Cronenberg’s new film A Dangerous Method about the friendship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

She feared that scenes in which her character appears topless and tied to a bed while Jung [Michael Fassbender] spanks her behind would be too outrageously explicit, and attract undue attention, she told The Daily Telegraph at the film’s British premiere in London last night. But Knightley was surprised to discover that, weirdly, the scenes haven’t been mentioned in most countries. In the whole three days the cast were at the Venice Film Festival, they were not mentioned at all and the rest of the world seems to have turned a blind eye to them… except in England. "In England it’s got mentioned all the time," she said. "I don’t know what that says about us. We obviously like spanking." But retired psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple who has worked with dominatrix patients during his medical career questions whether the English Vice is actually so English after all. "Certainly there is a national fascination with the practice," he writes in The Daily Telegraph today, but he says the idea that spanking for sexual pleasure is "as English as cricket and buttered crumpets" is not true if the film itself is anything to go by. The figure of the public school master "trembling with erotic excitement as he flogs a series of boys", which is supposed to be at the psychological root of a subsequent desire to be flogged, is "more of a cliché than truth". He also points out that the word 'sadism’ comes not from an Englishman but a Frenchman, de Sade, and 'masochism’ from the Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.

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