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Film Review: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

22 June 22 words: Abbie Leeson
illustrations: Abbie Leeson

An unabashed, laugh-out-loud voyage into the realms of sexual liberation and self-acceptance - this is a film built to shatter repressed, awkward Britain...

Throughout history, women’s bodies have long played the part of playgrounds for men. Politically, sexually and functionally, we place feminine bodies in whatever roles we wish for them to fill. As a woman, amongst abortion laws, objectification and societal demands, you will be told that you are both beautiful and shameful in the same sentence. By young adulthood, you will be well-acquainted with the idea that both your exterior and interior are the domain of men. When you become a mother (and it is so often a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’), your entire role will become that of a mother. Your body is now a vehicle to nourish, to carry, to feed. You’re now both fetishised and undesirable. You’ve fulfilled your duty, you're worn-out. But what happens after all of this? What happens when you’ve stopped pumping out eggs? When your children are old enough to feed children of their own? When your repressed, old man of a husband has finally kicked the bucket? What happens when a woman is just a woman, and no longer an object of desire or political debate?  

When I first took my seat in the Box cinema, on the third floor of the QUAD, Derby, the first thing I felt was uncomfortable. Not because of the bright mustard armchair I was seated in, or the several cushions they had arranged around the room - one of which had found its place comfortably on my lap - but because I was now hyper-aware that I was seated in an intimate room full of strangers, about to watch a film entirely about sex. This discomfort is somehow mirrored by the protagonist of the film, Nancy, played by the wonderful Emma Thompson, who (upon the arrival of a male escort at her hotel room) seems baffled by even the notion of what she is about to do. At the door is the tall and ridiculously handsome Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), whose toothy grin and Irish charm sends waves of giggles through every cinema-goer in earshot, including me.  

Dancing and giggling through sex and friendship (and all the little moments in between), Nancy learns how to unwind and let go, and Leo learns how to open himself up to authenticity

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande takes place almost entirely within the hotel room of Nancy Stokes, a retired RE teacher whose husband died two years prior. Bored of her ‘bland’ and ‘disappointing’ children, and painfully alone, Nancy grimly reminisces about her life up to this moment, which consisted of a firmly repressed marital life and an unfulfilling connection with her body and sense of self – two relationships which, unfortunately, had never resulted in an orgasm.  

In the vast majority of films about those tricky middle-age years, the passion of youth is something lost and discarded, something you might have dropped into an old handbag or coat pocket someday in your girlhood. Within this film, however, youthful passion isn’t something that our protagonist has ever truly had.  

Nancy is the type of person to always plan ahead. You see them sometimes: the type of women who shop at Marks & Spencer, who spend their days and nights polishing a home so methodically that after forty years it still hardly looks lived in. You can find them massaging hand cream into neatly trimmed fingers, applying careful spritzes of Dior to their collarbones, slipping their feet into a sensible pair of flats. What you rarely find them doing, however, is buying sex.  

As the feature slowly unravels, it begins to question the real meaning of womanhood

Even Nancy herself seems befuddled by the idea. Feeling wildly undesirable in the presence of her attractive young companion, she darts skittishly around the bedroom, avoiding every sexual interaction she can with the perplexed Leo Grande. After some beautifully awkward scenes of doubt and insecurity, we find Nancy and Leo finally in bed together – her in her satin nightdress, him with nothing on. While this film is undoubtedly about sex, and everything that makes sex simultaneously beautiful, ugly and hilarious, it is in no way an uncomfortable film to watch. In my yellow armchair, I found myself laughing hysterically with the people around me. Thompson’s sharp wit and sense of character truly jumps off the screen, and McCormack plays a perfect point of contrast to her in both age and humour.  

Throughout a series of four meetings, the unlikely pair search for this missing piece in Nancy’s life. Dancing and giggling through sex and friendship (and all the little moments in between), Nancy learns how to unwind and let go, and Leo learns how to open himself up to authenticity. An unabashed, laugh-out loud comedy, you’ll be chuckling in some moments and clinging to the edge of your seat in others.  

When watching this film, I found myself thinking absentmindedly of a quote from Fleabag, by the wonderful Phoebe Waller-Bridge: “The menopause comes, the f*cking menopause comes, and it is the most wonderful f*cking thing in the world. And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get f*cking hot and no one cares. But then you're free, no longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts - you're just a person.” 

As the feature slowly unravels, it begins to question the real meaning of womanhood throughout. What does happen when you’re no longer useful to the world? When your time for retirement has come? To Nancy, it turns out, the answer to that is: whatever the hell you want. 

Beautiful, tasteful and unashamed, this is the perfect film to pop on with your friends over a bottle of wine and a bowl of crisps, helping to start up a real dialogue about bodies and sexuality with them and with yourself.

Did you know? The movie was filmed in order, so the leading actors would progress with their characters.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is now showing in cinemas 

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