By Bailey Pennick
A simple knock on a door starts it all. While this is a semi-accurate way to describe the beginning of the intimate relationship between Nancy Stoke (Emma Thompson) and Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), this knock is actually what rattled around Katy Brand’s mind and inspired her to write the screenplay for Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. The other thing that was kicking around in Brand’s head as she wrote this story? Dame Emma Thompson.
“I always wrote this with Emma in mind as Nancy,” the screenwriter says during the film’s post-premiere Q&A. From a Zoom box on the other side of the screen, Thompson smiles at the kind words from her friend and scribe. Although this might sound like a standard doting world-premiere-comment, in the case of Leo Grande, there is no fluff — Thompson deserves every bit of praise for her nuanced and complex performance.
On the surface, the film is the story of a widowed retired teacher who hires a younger sex worker to help expand her (incredibly limited) sexual knowledge. However, at its core, Leo Grande is a film about the winding journey of acceptance and self-love. Both Leo and Nancy struggle with their own paths in life and push back on the idea of being their whole selves in their day-to-day lives: Nancy constantly runs from the opportunities to take what she wants in the bedroom, and Leo struggles to connect with his family due to his career choices, which he’s immensely proud of.
With the excellent performance of McCormack to play against, Thompson explores all the edges of her character. “It’s something unlike anything I’ve ever done before and I had never seen anything like this before. The first thing that struck me was its sheer originality,” Thompson says, lighting up next to her co-star. “Then what struck me next was the real necessity of this film — the way that we talk about pleasure or shame — I didn’t realize how thirsty I was for a story like this until it came along.”
The Q&A chat explodes with love for Thompson’s full-throated decree for this tale of healing in all forms. “This film is about two people meeting and it’s an exploration of intimacy,” says director Sophie Hyde while introducing the film. “I think that’s something that we’re all grappling with at the moment.”