Good Luck to You, Leo Grande


Nancy Stokes is a woman disappointed by her life. A widow at 50-something, she looks back on her lackluster marriage in which sex was always a disappointment with never an orgasm to relieve the predictability, her years as a high school religious education teacher were but unfulfilling routine, her two grown children bring her no satisfaction – she deems her son boring, and her daughter is always in some peccadillo or other. And although it is now too late to change her life entirely, she decides to act on what she can. She wants to experience sexual pleasure and hires a sex worker to do the job.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande/Photo courtesy of Forum Films

With that backstory, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a film that could have gone in many different directions. Directed by Sophie Hyde with a screenplay by Katy Brand, it becomes a riveting encounter between two strangers, illuminated by brilliant performances from Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack. The film is essentially a two-hander, delivering an intentionally limited perspective on its protagonists, taking place almost entirely in the hotel room that Nancy Stokes – not her real name – has booked for her sessions with Leo Grande – also, not his real name. What takes place between these two is transactional, and in our culture, there is typically a moral judgement attached to sex work that we do not necessarily attach to other transactional relationships, such as the person who cooks or serves our food in a restaurant, or the therapist in whom we confide our innermost thoughts and feelings.  Even Nancy, who has gone so far as to book an appointment with a sex worker, is still tormented by the conflict between her desires and her moral censure of Leo’s profession.

Repressed, tense and full of fears, yet determined to explore, Emma Thompson conveys Nancy’s myriad shifting emotions, even eliciting the viewer’s compassion for a woman who should probably take a hefty share of the blame for her disappointments in life. Thompson’s lively features and wonderfully natural lined face expresses the characters thoughts and feelings so honestly and nakedly that one cannot help but feel for her. The film is divided into four sections, each representing a meeting between Nancy and Leo. The confined location emphasizes the internal process that Nancy experiences.

Hilariously nervous at first, with Leo doing his suave best to help her relax, it is fascinating to watch the slow, gradual small changes in Nancy as the film, and the meetings, progress. Daryl McCormack is incredibly beautiful; he literally looks like a fantasy – no wonder Nancy pinches him to make sure he’s not a figment of her imagination. McCormack delivers a nuanced performance that reveals in the most subtle, restrained manner, the work Leo does to maintain the façade and fantasy of Leo Grande. In his conversations with Nancy, his gaze reveals emotions reined in and the thoughtful way he gages his responses. There is much to Leo that remains intentionally unknown.

The film relates to its protagonists with honesty and respect, depicting them not as a cliché or idealized figure, but as two individuals, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Nancy’s sharp intelligence and wit coexist with her insecurity, intense fear of rejection, and feelings of entitlement as she looks down on the world from her moral high ground. Leo is confident, naturally graceful and eminently at ease in his toned body, with a clear understanding of his chosen profession and the ability to understand his client and adapt to her needs, as well as a strong sense of the necessary boundaries. Yet he too has his vulnerable moments.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande/Photo: Nick Wal

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande takes an adventurous route to depict an older woman’s search for sexual pleasure. Director Sophie Hyde has already shown a talent for taking on tough issues with honesty and verve in 52 Tuesdays (2013) and the gaze she turns on the sexual coming-of-age of Nancy Stokes is just as riveting and thought-provoking. The film opens many issues of body image, shame, agency, and power dynamics to name a few, and while viewers are certain to have different responses and opinions – it’s a a conversation worth having.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

UK/2022/97 min/English

Director: Sophie Hyde; Screenplay: Katy Brand; Cinematography and Editing: Bryan Mason; Music: Stephen Rennicks; Cast: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack


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