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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande

The inelegantly named "Good Luck To You, Leo Grande" manages to keep one foot firmly on the floor of enjoyably progressive entertainment even as it dances around a peculiarly British minefield in which anxiety and openness about intimacy collide.

Directed by Sophie Hyde (who made the 2019 Sundance hit Animals) from an often hilarious if somewhat theatrical script by Katy Brand, this stagey two-hander presents a chaptered series of hotel-room encounters between an uptight, recently widowed woman and an unfeasibly lovable handsome young sex worker.

Emma Thompson’s Nancy, a retired RE teacher who has never had an orgasm (her missionary-positioned marriage was not so much “a furnace of passion that burned out” as simply “the bottom drawer of an Aga”) and now has a list of “attainable goals” that she’d “like to get through” to see what all the fuss was about.

Having only ever slept with her husband, Nancy’s knowledge of sex work comes largely from the Wikipedia-copied essays of her students. Meanwhile, the titular erudite service provider (smoothly played by Peaky Blinders alumnus Daryl McCormack) has mummy issues that dovetail neatly with his jittery client’s own parental shortcomings, something that will become apparent during their extracoital exchanges, which form the backbone of the drama.

It’s no surprise that the endlessly versatile Thompson (who effortlessly stole films such as Love, Actually and An Education in which she played ensemble or supporting parts) should be note perfect in a tragicomic role

McCormack and Thompson are dexterous actors playing characters into whom I confess I never quite bought.

None of which is to say that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande isn’t admirably subversive and enjoyably whimsical fare, and McCormack is fantastic in a role so subtle it could appear flatlined and phony if people aren’t paying attention.

He’s forced to keep his voice as steady as a horse tamer; the energy flows through his eyes. His Leo stares at Nancy, absorbs her, and through his rapt attention silently tries to convince her that to him, in this moment, she’s the only woman in the world.

Steve Fanagan’s sound design casts a similar spell. Once Leo enters the hotel, the film never leaves. We become hyper-aware of the sound of socks on carpet and hands rustling over shirt collars and hair.

The structure of "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande" is simple, almost like a stage play, but the execution clearly took meticulous care. The hotel room is shot by cinematographer Bryan Mason as though it's a vast space with different rooms: sitting on the couch has a totally different feel than sitting on the bed, even though the areas are just three feet apart. There's nothing fussy or overdone in the film's look, nothing to distract.

"Leo Grande" has a light touch, and the dialogue is often hilarious, but depth is never sacrificed. There is a moment when Emma Thompson stares at her naked body in the mirror, probably for the first time. Physical nakedness is one thing. Emotional nakedness is another. "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande" has room for both.

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