Directed by Steven Shainberg, starring James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies and Lesley Ann Warren.

In American cinema today there are mainstream films, independent films, and mainstream films disguised as indies and sold to an audience targeted as keenly as a kid at Harry Potter. 'Secretary' belongs to the last category, as a film with independent backing and a left-field conceit, but a strongly conventional core.

In broad strokes, Lee Holloway (Gyllenhaal) has a history of self- mutilation and a classically unstable family background. When she is released from a psychiatric hospital, her mother duly locks up all the sharp objects in the house before driving her to her first job interview – for the position of secretary at a lawyer's office.

Mr Grey (Spader) - a man with 'repressed' stamped on every aspect of his life - instantly hires her. As the neuroses of boss and employee become apparent to each other, their relationship evolves into a sado-masochistic bind containing moments of spanking comedy.

But this is all. Despite solid performances, each character lacks the depth to marry the elements of a basic romantic comedy to such a tricky subject. As the story is wound up in the final reel through a device as cliched as it is implausible, the skilful rendering of other oddball lead characters ('Talk to Her', 'Your Friends and Neighbours', 'Bottle Rocket') springs to mind.

Of course it's refreshing to see two unusual characters find a mirror in the others' behaviour, but the message here is nothing more than "everybody needs somebody". In the end, 'Secretary' is a mainstream film dressed up as an independent - a paean to conformity in bondage gear.

John Butler