Director: Sophie Hyde
Stars: Isabella Laughland, Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson
In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande Emma Thompson plays a mature woman who hires a younger male sex worker for his services. Her character ‘Nancy’ is stiflingly ashamed of this action, and much of their initial meeting is taken up by her dithering, quasi-panicked reaction to putting herself in such a taboo position. Her hire – the titular ‘Leo’ (Daryl McCormack) – is relaxed, self-assured, and mildly amused by Nancy’s skittish behaviour, pacing about the hotel room they inhabit, often using the layout of furniture to create a physical boundary between the two of them.
Nancy’s reaction may read as comic – and author Katy Brand makes great hay out of it – but the film is addressing a conspicuous imbalance that remains in our society; that of female pleasure – it’s place, importance and acceptance.
Only a few months ago in The Worst Person in the World the issue was articulated by that film’s main character Julie. Women’s issues – particularly sexual issues – are still largely shrouded from view, from menstruation to menopause, while the idea of a woman’s sexual pleasure still often seems like a secondary concern as the patriarchal is prioritised. From professionally produced porn through to the softcore sizzle of HBO originals etc, the skew is clear.
As Nancy opens up about her past and her unsatisfying marriage, it becomes clear that she has never been prioritised sexually, conditioned by society and her former husband to want and expect less than she deserves. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande documents her unlearning, through the deft questioning and respectful coercion of her new acquaintance. The film takes place almost entirely within the walls of their generic hotel room.
This conceit suggests that the work is a play transposed, but Brand wrote the piece specifically for the screen, and director Hyde works briskly with the limitations of a single-setting, blocking and pacing her work accordingly and allowing her actors free reign. It is on this score that Leo Grande is strongest. Thompson puts in one of her finest performances in a long time, and the film connects the strongest when Nancy allows certain barriers to drop. We can all relate to such vulnerable catharsis in some element of our lives, and seeing it mirrored so honestly on screen invites our emotional connection.
McCormack is equally strong, and the film avoids icky sexual politics in part by both observing his objectification and deconstructing it. It’s a while before we pry into Leo’s guarded background. Nancy quickly comes to treat their sessions as psychotherapy, and Leo leans into the anonymity of a counsellor. However, as the bond between them grows in complexity, his own life is drawn into the equation – often against his will. It is here that McCormack is allowed to muscle in on Thompson’s territory, so to speak, and he more than holds his own.
Busting a further taboo, Thompson bares all in a role that fundamentally addresses body image for post-menopausal women. It’s pointedly being praised as an act of bravery, but it is this sense of exceptionalism that the film is challenging. Leo Grande rebukes shame in all it’s guises. In this piece it is the rejection and release of such reductive, constrictive thinking that becomes a barometer for success and happiness. Relaxation and release – in all forms – are triumphs to be encouraged and celebrated.
Still, it is not just our sexual connections that are discussed and dissected here. Nancy confesses her disinterest and disappointment in her children, while Leo barely conceals the wounds he carries from his past in Ireland, particularly relating to his mother’s rejection of him. Leo Grande opens a discussion of familial coldness from both sides even though it’s central pairing aren’t bonded by blood.
Wordy be design, light (both figuratively and literally) and only occasionally prone to melodrama, this is a joyful if formally limited piece of work with a distinctly British sense of humour, one that uses traditional moires of reservation and classism to both titter and wreak quiet havoc.