After years in an unfulfilling marriage, a widowed religious education teacher (Emma Thompson) decides to hire a prostitute named Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) and explore a wider variety of sexual acts and positions with him. Over the course of their encounters, she begins to reveal herself to him and rediscovers her sexuality...
As much as movies about sex workers tend to focus or at least comment on the lascivious nature of the trade, and movies about sexual discovery seem to take in how it ends in tears, 'Good Luck To You, Leo Grande' arrives at just the right moment when people are more attuned to the idea of consent in sexuality, female empowerment, body acceptance, and a more evolved sense of sexuality itself. Yet, what makes the story so intriguing is how this isn't necessarily the case for one-half of its cast.
Emma Thompson's miffy widow, Nancy, makes it clear that she is only interested in knocking off a few concepts she's been curious about, sexually. Daryl McCormack's suave and refined sex worker, Leo, chats openly and comfortably about his profession and his skill set. The two are diametrically opposed, yet linked in the middle by a transaction and by a yearning for pleasure itself. Yet, Thompson's character snaps immediately when she finds herself seduced by his touch and instead opts for a banal, formulaic sexual encounter - which McCormack, being a professional, complies with without complaint. With each encounter between Leo and Nancy, she opens herself more to him while he remains the same. It's only when she tries to pierce his delicately arranged armour and crosses a line that things take a sharp left turn.
It goes without saying that for a movie that is a frank exploration of sexual liberation and repression, both actors have to be willing to bear all, and both do in every sense of the word. Thompson is electric in her performance, chilly and brittle but with a desire beneath it that is all too human and fragile to ignore and often overplayed by other, less skilled actors. Daryl McCormack is all laconic charm and ease, and the fact that he's built like a Greek god is a help and not a hindrance. That he is so comfortable in his own skin, aware of his good looks and physique but never boastful, makes him all the more desirable. Between the two of them, the drama and the tension spark the whole thing to life.
It would be easy to suggest that 'Good Luck To You, Leo Grande' could have been a play and it's not hard to imagine it playing in some kind of theatrical setting. The non-descript hotel room feels like a stage, yet there is an intimacy and understanding in where Sophie Hyde places a shot and when Irish composer Stephen Rennicks brings in the music. It's a considered choice, not done simply for amusement or effect. Likewise, Katy Brand's script is so dialogue-driven and verbose that it'd be a task for any actor to rattle it off night after night. That's not to say it's heavy going, quite the opposite in fact. Thompson and McCormack verbally spar and pirouette around each other, cracking jibes and witty ripostes along the way.
'Good Luck To You, Leo Grande' is a movie that proves itself to be irresistibly charming and seductive. It's witty and sexy, funny and touching, and explores the topic of sexuality and acceptance in later life with grace and gentleness without losing any of its incisiveness.