Emma Thompson gives one of the best performances of her career in this charming, funny drama about desire and dreams – and sex work.
Turning the “Pretty Woman” fantasy on its outmoded head, the film opens with Thompson as Nancy Stokes (not her real name) waiting in a hotel room for a handsome young sex worker. When Leo Grande arrives (also not his real name, and played by beautiful Irish actor Daryl McCormack), Nancy is in a fluster, fretting about her appearance and the fact that she’s never, ever had an orgasm before.
Thompson is in her element here, delivering the bumbling, fumbling dialogue with self-deflating humour and typically British, frumpy politesse, revealing her character’s frustrated past as a secondary school RE teacher, mother (“my son bores me”) and wife whose husband of over 30 years has recently passed away.
But she can’t help ask Leo questions, too, about his mother and his career choice, prying to which he doesn’t take very kindly, bristling at anyone probing behind his good-looking facade.
For while the film, deftly written by comedian Katy Brand, is essentially about a mature woman’s sexual awakening, this intimate two-hander also packs in a lot for both its characters, demystifying years of shame and self-doubt and scratching at the layers of dogma and morality that come with religion and parental expectation.
“You’re the only adventure I’ve ever had,” says Nancy to Leo in one of several memorable passages of dialogue, a sense of longing and a hint of denial glistening in her pale eyes, before she bravely stands in front of the mirror and takes a long, hard, loving look at herself. What a delightful, gently surprising little film.