In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde, Emma Thompson stars as Nancy Stokes, a widow and retired Religious Education teacher who hires handsome young sex-worker Leo Grande (played by rising Irish star Daryl McCormack) in the hopes of finding sexual fulfilment after a stale and lifeless married life.
Given the premise and execution (the film takes place in one room with just two main characters), this is a film that can only be as good as its performances and, thankfully, that’s where Good Luck to You, Leo Grande shines. Thompson gives one of the performances of her career. Nancy is instantly likeable, relatable and sympathetic, and this is without mentioning the guts it takes to play a part like this. McCormack, best known for his roles in Fair City and Peaky Blinders, shines with a performance even few seasoned actors could pull off. From the second he opens his mouth he is magnetic; it’s hard not to be charmed by him, as Nancy soon finds out.
The writing and direction are nothing to scoff at either. The writing enhances these incredible performances, with standout moments like Nancy’s family holiday story, summarising so much of importance (her entire life of unfulfilled ambition) so well and in so little words. The dialogue also stands out by not standing out; it’s so natural and smooth that at points one can come close to forgetting they’re watching a film, and the ‘heavy’ points of the conversations, such as Nancy’s attitudes to and misconceptions about sex work, Leo’s family history and the existence and crossing of boundaries, never feel hokey or forced.
Hyde’s direction also works to keep the whole package together, even down to the small, easy-to-miss details. For example, the gaps between Nancy and Leo’s meetings and the acts we aren’t shown are filled in in the audience’s minds by clever, economical and effective direction and editing. Most impressively, however, is how performance, writing and direction come together, managing to make an inherently theatrical setup and premise feel natural, without a single moment ever coming close to stagey.
Overall, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande does a lot with a little. It’s shockingly watchable, with the ability to hold one’s attention despite being exclusively dialogue scenes, comparable in ways to the Before Trilogy, while still managing to have a lot to say. Yes, it’s a film about sex, and it says a lot in its tackling of stigmas around sex work, sexual indulgence and the sex lives of older women. But Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is also something more, it’s as much about sex as it is about how your self-image defines the image you construct to the world, and the journey towards the acceptance of, and even learning to love, who and what you are.
Sexual awakening films have been coming close to an oversaturated market over the last decade, but Good Luck to You, Leo Grande spices up the genre, and shows that they can still be fresh and progressive, yet tender, affecting and warm, all at once.