Good Luck to You, Leo Grande Normalizes Consent in the Sexiest Way
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a film that centers around all things intimacy. One of the most sex-positive films in recent memory, this dialogue-driven character study delves into many aspects of sex: body image, experience, getting to know your partner, the nuance of mutual pleasure, the list goes on and on. Leo Grande explores all of these touchpoints quite flawlessly, but screenwriter Katy Brand pays special attention to a very important element in any sexual encounter: consent.
Typically, the number one priority for sex in cinema is to portray intensity and allure. More often than not, when there is a mutual attraction between characters, a certain gratification is instilled in a scene that involves a whirlwind of passion and clothes hitting the floor. Consent is usually implied by someone’s willingness but rarely is it explicitly stated. Leo Grande deliberately takes a step back from what viewers have become accustomed to and reframes that expectation. Why is a line as simple as “Is this okay?” so hard to come by in exchanges that involve a physical encounter on screen?
There is no denying that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande oozes sensuality. Daryl McCormack, who plays the titular role of Leo, is a truly magnetic leading man. He approaches his work with an easy confidence that invites viewers to relax into his character and become wholly invested in him. Emma Thompson is remarkable as Nancy Stokes, a widowed, retired Religious Education teacher who longs for sexual liberation. Their mutual goal is simple: discover what brings Nancy pleasure by crossing items off of a very sexy to-do list. Over the span of four separate meetings, the most important throughline of their encounters is that of respect, boundaries, and consent.
From one of Leo’s first lines of dialogue, he sets the tone, “Can I kiss you on the cheek?” This is the first time Nancy meets him, but also the first time the audience really meets him. This line speaks volumes as an introduction to Leo as someone that takes pride in the work he does and understands that feeling safe and in control in that environment is vital for everyone involved. It is because of these boundaries that he states that he doesn’t feel demeaned or degraded by sex work.
What is incredible about the inclusion of consent in this particular story, is that Nancy hires Leo specifically for the intimate services he provides. Leo is there under the pretense that there will be physical touch and still the inclination to check in with one another is constant. This is because those who are emotionally mature understand that it is not always necessarily the touch itself, but how physical contact can make your partner feel. His reassurance that he won’t do anything that Nancy doesn’t want to do eases her anxiety, if only slightly, when they are first getting to know each other. These words, yes, are important because she is clearly overwhelmed and he wants to soothe her but it also signals that he understands that sex is about mutual enjoyment and that can only be achieved when both parties are comfortable. When Nancy begins to spiral with thoughts that she is disgusting for hiring Leo, he senses that she is vulnerable, panicking, and unsure. When he approaches her, even though it is only to hold her gently by the wrists, he asks before he does so. She might not want to be touched while she’s wrestling with these feelings, he doesn’t know for certain if this gesture will make her feel better or worse, and how could he, unless he asks. As he continues to deescalate her racing mind with slow, careful acts, she gives verbal “mhm”’s as he kisses and undresses her. With each action, she communicates that she wants him to keep going, and so he does, one step at a time.
In their first meeting, Leo hardly knows anything about Nancy, it is just assumed that regardless of how confident, or conversely, how nervous your partner is, consent always needs to be provided. Leo exemplifies here that asking for permission isn’t exclusively about Nancy’s comfort level with touch, but also how that touch affects her state of mind. A perfect example of this is when he asks “Would you find a massage patronizing at this point?” When she complains about her children.
A common and frankly disturbing misconception is that asking for consent during a passionate encounter can “ruin the mood”. While this outdated school of thought continues to be debated, Leo Grande completely shuts the door on any notion that asking for permission is a mood-killer. If anything, it encourages the idea that consent can be, and is, downright sexy. There is a beautiful and heated scene in which Nancy is admiring Leo’s physique. When she asks him to take his shirt off, and then asks to touch him, she is so attracted to him that the scene plays out as though she’s savouring him. She is naming the parts of him that she finds desirable one by one while specifically weaving in permission-seeking language. In this way, consent is made to look sexy, and enticing, like part of the buildup. It encourages skeptical viewers to think a little more creatively the next time they dismiss consent as a formality and not a necessity. After this exchange, he confirms this sentiment outright when he says, “When I’m here with you, being looked at by you, I feel good.” Their gratitude for verbal cues only reinforces what Emma Austin states in the above essay: “If you can’t ask for consent properly, you’re just not ready to have sex.”
The dynamic between Nancy and Leo is the butting of heads between old-school and modern ideas of sex. Consent can take on many forms, and this is exemplified when Leo and Nancy have a discussion following an (attempted) sexy student-teacher roleplay. Firstly, when Nancy shows her utter discomfort with the scenario, Leo stops immediately. When she delves into how the female students at her school would hike up their skirts, she implies that they had perverse intentions with their male teachers. When Leo challenges her, insisting that young girls ought to wear what they like, Nancy retorts, “Men can’t always control themselves, Leo, they’re not all like you. Some of those male teachers were like lambs to the slaughter, poor sods.” Obviously, this statement has terrifying implications: Nancy is of the belief that it is the responsibility of those young girls to ensure that older men aren’t attracted to them. Leo’s response is short, simple, and validating for every woman whose attire has ever been called into question, “Or maybe they were in the wrong job. Or maybe they should have realized those girls weren’t there for them”. This is arguably the most important line in the entire film, and I applaud Katy Brand, as well as director Sophie Hyde for making it such a poignant talking point between the two characters.
The central conflict in this film arises from Nancy disrespecting Leo’s clearly laid-out boundaries. As previously mentioned, Nancy asks Leo if his work makes him feel “demeaned or degraded” and he insists that it doesn’t. This changes when Nancy goes behind his back in search of his true identity. Only then does he feel completely violated and betrayed. Furthermore, when she continues to probe about his and his mother’s relationship, he feels that the professional image that he’s worked very hard to maintain has been soiled. During his powerful monologue, he expresses the frustration and pain of having control taken away during such an intimate exchange, which also happens to be his career. No one would want to feel as powerless as Leo does here, which is why it is an integral part of any relationship to establish, and more importantly, to honour these boundaries.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a film that instills a hopeful idea that negative dispositions, fears, and insecurities around sex are trending in a more positive direction. Therefore, it’s all too possible that sex in film will soon follow suit. The emotional gravitas of this story demonstrates that lust and attraction can still exist on-screen in a meaningful way without degradation or perpetuating harmful ideas about consent. In Leo Grande, asking for and giving permission is integrated so effortlessly and so frequently. Charming, alluring lines such as “Can I unbutton this? Can I take this off?” makes the idea of consent seem so normalized, but in a way that is “empirically sexy”.