Emma Thompson is Nancy, a widow in her 50s. The former religious education teacher has always had misgivings about “concupiscence”, as she calls it, and has never experienced an orgasm. In hopes of a more satisfactory sexual encounter, Nancy hires the services of Leo Grande. The young man turns out to be much more than what she expects from an escort. 

The title may suggest otherwise, but director Sophie Hyde’s latest feature is not set up as a challenge to bring Nancy to climax, anticipating a quick fix. Instead, layer by layer, the piece peels away at the oppressive forces at the root of her unmet needs. Without preaching, the drama sheds light on the therapeutic effects of sex work, making the case that it should not only be legal but part of public healthcare. 

For obvious practical reasons, there has been a renewed interest in chamber plays since the pandemic. The confines of setting a film in a single location with a small cast can run the risk of forfeiting the viewer’s interest if the creative execution doesn’t justify the choice sufficiently. But even as the two protagonists keep meeting in the same hotel room, the audience stays invested in them both. This is largely thanks to the multifaceted script, which was written by comedian Katy Brand. Her words are equal parts humorous and thought-provoking, the voices of both generations captured candidly.

The other contributing factor is that both Thompson and Daryl McCormack, who plays Leo Grande, are absolutely captivating to watch. Their synergy is responsive and lively.

The sexual lives of people at the later stages of middle-age is a common thread at this year’s Berlinale (other examples include Rimini and A E I O U – A Quick Alphabet of Love). Perhaps because it is a British production, apart from the reverberating final shots, the imagery of Leo Grande is played quite safe and stays proper. The room is illuminated exhaustively and gives off a very clean tableau – in all likelihood a deliberate decision to move sex work away from the idea of it being a seedy, nocturnal business. 

While the physical form may not be the visual focus of the film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is at heart a love letter to the human body and its capacity for pleasure.

★★★★☆

Selina Sondermann

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.

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