Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is the third fictional feature and latest in a run of Sundance hits for Australian director Sophie Hyde. The dramedy plot centres around retired widow Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) who, after years of unsatisfying sex with her late husband, hires escort Leo (Daryl McCormack) for an adventurous night of passion at a local hotel. Their initial encounter is expectedly awkward, but the pair’s relationship soon develops into something far more intimate.
Written by comedian Katy Brand, the sharp script has a very British sensibility that suits the subject matter very well. From the trailer, I expected something smutty and crass, but the film itself has a lot of heart and nuance. Almost entirely unfolding in one location, the dialogue-driven narrative has the minimalist style of a two-hander play, and the frank and unadulterated conversations carries it forward brilliantly as the film playfully explores its themes of sex-work, societal norms, ageing, and parental pressures through the open and honest dynamic between the central characters. As the talking stops and things get physical, Hyde’s camera swiftly cuts away, holding back the explicit nature of the tale in favour of their heartfelt discussions. Humour is achieved within the stark contrast between Nancy and Leo’s backgrounds and personalities; there are some laugh-out-loud scenes but crucially the comedy is perfectly judged so as never to feel cruel or judgemental.
Viewers might recognise McCormack from his supporting part as Isaiah in crime series Peaky Blinders, but this sensitive titular role is a far cry from that. Leo is cool, confident, and charismatic, and is refreshingly pragmatic about his controversial profession. This provides an early talking point with screen veteran Thompson’s complex, and quite contradictory character, and it’s compelling to see them trade opinions and insights on all manner of life’s matters, in and out of the bedroom. Both performances are superb, and as the literal and metaphorical layers come off, the poignant moments of emotion are well earned.
It might not give you the happy ending you’d expect, but Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is funny, clever, and surprisingly endearing. The writer and director pairing of Brand and Hyde tackle their topics with an open-mindedness and candour that so often goes amiss in films of this ilk, and their stripped-back story is elevated by fantastic leading turns from Thompson and McCormack.