Emma Thompson, 63, does her bit for women of a certain age in film

Emma Thompson bares all in a new movie - and the reaction by critics is reassuring to women of a certain age, says Emma Thompson 
Emma Thompson, 63, does her bit for women of a certain age in film

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in Good Luck to you, Leo Grande.

THE big reveal in the funny and poignant film, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, is 63-year old actress Emma Thompson’s full frontal nude pose - cited as ‘brave’ by some film critics - which will be reassuring to all women of a certain age.

For once, on the big screen, a woman on the cusp of her senior years is shown with her saggy bits.

And you know what? She looks fine - for her age, as we tend to say.

This shot isn’t delicately lit or idealised via the male gaze. This is a woman who in real life has given birth to two children and is no spring chicken. It shouldn’t be a big deal that her body isn’t perfect, like that of some nubile young model for whom beauty is currency.

But it’s actually quite subversive for a famous actress to allow herself to be filmed honestly, so to speak. And the lines on her face are a further marker of maturity. There has been no Botox or fillers, no cosmetic surgery. But Thompson still looks very attractive.

Not that that’s her calling card. As she has said, she has been spared the worst of Hollywood’s fierce focus on looks. Most of the characters she has played are not distinguished by their faces or bodies. When given a script describing a character as a beauty, she stops reading it.

Thompson is more focused on good acting. She plays Nancy, a repressed retired religious education teacher whose husband, the only man she ever slept with, has died two years previously.

Nancy is bothered that the earth has never moved for her while having sex. She hires a sex worker (a gorgeous young man called Leo) who is endlessly patient with his client’s embarrassment, hang-ups and debilitating self-consciousness.

Ironically, Nancy used to get her students to write essays on the topic of whether sex work should be legalised. If only the students could see their former teacher in her hotel room, canoodling with a gigolo/prostitute, or plain old sex worker (that latter term is more anodyne and non-judgemental.)

Heck, it’s remarked that Leo is kind of providing a public service. His oldest client was an 82-year old woman. This is reassuring for Nancy, who thinks she’s ancient and all washed up.

Being sixty-something definitely puts you in the invisible asexual category. Wolf-whistles are replaced with offers of seats on the bus. Just in case you might expire while standing on your weary feet.

But when Leo asks Nancy what perfume she is wearing and she responds that it’s a Nigella Lawson product, he says: “Nigella is empirically sexy at any age.” (This makes Nancy look very downbeat as Nigella is no spring chick herself, but looks youthful).

Some women just have it, right into their autumn years. Think Helen Mirren or Isabella Rosselini.

Are you getting depressed? Age is just a number, is what these women would probably say. It’s all about attitude.

And you can see Nancy’s attitude towards herself changing in the course of the film.

In the opening scene, she has just arrived in her hotel room, looking very frumpy in a wine-coloured suit and floral-patterned blouse. She tosses off her comfy shoes and puts on a pair of kitten heels and takes few slugs from a bottle of booze from the mini bar.

Gradually, over the course of four meetings with Leo, she loosens up. But boy, is she hard work for her escort. She has explained to him that she is a product of repressive 1950s London. She doesn’t get the younger generation. Pole dancing as a hobby confounds her.

At one meeting, Nancy arrives with her list of achievable sexual goals. She wants to tick off various experiences. Everything she never did with her husband.

This film is a hoot. It’s also quite sad. Leo’s back story, which he gradually reveals, has been influenced by the attitude of his estranged Irish Catholic mother. But while he’s willing to disclose some details, he becomes furious when Nancy crosses a boundary.

The boundary is not, of course, being intimate with a stranger. That’s Leo’s bread and butter. But he has plenty to hide and doesn’t like being rumbled.

However, despite his calm handsome exterior, Leo has his demons.

What I liked about this film is that it’s no Pretty Woman in reverse. That 1990 movie sees the character played by Richard Gere falling in love with the beautiful prostitute, Julia Roberts. That was the stuff of clichéd fantasy - older, rich man rescues hooker and falls for her. Give us a break.

Nancy just wants “to play at being young again,” she tells Leo. He’s described by her as “some sort of sex saint”. He certainly has the patience of a saint.

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