mma Thompson and rising star Daryl McCormack are sublime in this graphic, bound-to-be-controversial British dramedy about a middle-aged, English widow whose life is transformed by a twentysomething Irish prostitute. The film may be as dodgy as it is ground-breaking, but the chemistry between the two actors is undeniably grand.
Mother-of-two, Nancy (Thompson), is a privileged and often patronising pedagogue. She’s spent most of her adult life teaching RE to recalcitrant teens. Now she wants to educate herself, re lust. In an anonymous hotel room, she hands gigolo Leo (McCormack), a list of “goals”, that include giving him a blow job and doing it doggy style.
Having an orgasm is not on the list. Nancy, you see, is a pessimist/realist. She says that she faked orgasms with her husband and performs her phoney moan, to hilarious effect (it’s a time-saving variation on the one in When Harry Met Sally). The charming Leo, who at first seems unflappable, thinks he can satisfy Nancy. Is he right?
Nancy feels like a spiritual cousin to Olivia Colman’s character in The Lost Daughter. Both Nancy and Leda are intellectuals, flummoxed by the demands of motherhood, whose caustic wit can give way on a dime to spite and snobbery. If you like flawed and funny heroines, you’re in luck. That said, Leda and Nancy take a very different approach to sexual healing. Where Leda only flirts with the idea of flirting with a man half her age, Nancy goes the whole way.
In the second half of the movie, Thompson’s body is very much in our face. Like Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown, the 62 year old actress has firmly refused to deny the ageing process, and gives us her all. And of course, Thompson is actually super-sexy, not because she’s been lit to look younger than she is (the lighting is sometimes soft, sometimes harsh). She’s a sight for sore eyes because, when she throws back her head and laughs, she makes you believe that everyone and anyone who likes themselves is hot.
In separate scenes, Nancy and Leo survey themselves in the hotel mirror. No words are spoken but, on both occasions, the effect is deeply moving.
The script, written by comedian Katy Brand, isn’t always so deft. After several twists (some intriguing, some histrionic), Nancy gets a speech in which she suggests all post-menopausal women, in order to avoid “crinkling up” with frustration, should have a few sessions with someone like Leo. She’s essentially saying, ‘You’re as young as (the young sex worker) you feel.” That’s not feminism, that’s ageist piffle designed to reel in audiences who think Magic Mike shows are cutting edge.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande was filmed in Norfolk last March, while England was still in lockdown, which partially explains why almost everything happens in just two settings (the aforementioned hotel and a restaurant with all the buzz of a particularly dismal graveyard).
The movie only works when the camera is honed on Thompson and McCormack. Leo looks at Nancy and says, “Thank you for coming.” The big question: will women come in their droves, when this film finally hits the UK?
97mins. Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22 and will have a second screening (which can be viewed online) on January 24