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Image / Living / Culture

Emma Thompson’s new movie covers sex and ageing how ‘And Just Like That’ should have


By Sarah Finnan
26th Jan 2022

IMDb

Emma Thompson’s new movie covers sex and ageing how ‘And Just Like That’ should have

Emma Thompson's new movie, 'Good Luck to You, Leo Grande', does what 'And Just Like That' fails to when it comes to sex and ageing.

Emma Thompson is one of those actresses whose name is usually met with adoring utterances of “Oh, I love her”. She’s played everyone from Nanny McPhee to Professor Sybil Trelawney and she’s been brilliant in every single movie we’ve seen her in thus far… even that slightly deranged Christmas flick Last Christmas, where she cast herself as a depressed former Yugoslavian immigrant. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a wild ride but it will probably ruin Wham! for you forever, so be warned. 

Always with one eye on the future and what her next big project will be, Thompson already has lots on her plate for this year including a starring role in the comedy-drama Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Set to play retired school teacher Nancy Stokes, her character is a 55-year-old widow who “yearns for adventure, human connection, and some great sex”. According to Deadline, her late husband, Robert, “provided a home, a family, something resembling a life, but good sex was never on offer during their 31-year marriage”. 

All that’s about to change for Nancy though who decides she will find the adventure she’s looking for (that being her first orgasm)  with a sex worker named Leo Grande (played by Daryl McCormack). A role unlike any of the ones she’s played before, getting into the character of Nancy Stokes was challenging in more ways than one – not least because the script required Thompson to be completely naked at one point. 

The only full-frontal nude scene she’s done in her career, Emma admitted that she found the process very demanding and there was actually quite a lot involved in preparing herself for the big moment. “Sophie [Hyde, director], Daryl, and I rehearsed entirely nude and talked about our bodies, talked about our relationship with our bodies, drew them, discussed the things that we find difficult about [them], things we like about them, and described one another’s bodies,” Thompson revealed during the project’s virtual premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend. 

“It’s very challenging to be nude at 62,” she admitted. Detailing how Nancy stands in front of the mirror alone and drops her robe to look at herself with “no particular judgement”, Thompson later said that that was “hugely, hugely difficult” for her personally. 

“I don’t think I could’ve done it before the age that I am,” she continued. “And yet, of course, the age that I am makes it extremely challenging because we aren’t used to seeing untreated bodies on the screen. We’re used to seeing bodies that have been worked on, you know, for a long time to make them acceptable to our eyes. It’s time we did more to change that… We’ve got to be able to see real bodies on the screen.”

That is one of the story’s greatest triumphs though; that it “presents the untreated body” for one of those rare moments, as Emma puts it. Overwhelmingly positive in its portrayal of an older woman and her sexuality, the movie essentially does what the new Sex and the City reboot fails to – it shows a middle-aged woman exploring a side of her that Hollywood often tends to ignore. 

While And Just Like That is breaking boundaries in its own right, sex is no longer at the forefront of the conversation. They changed the name and brought the series in a new direction, but writers have missed a step in doing so. The sexual explorations and freedoms were what made the original series so ground-breaking in the first place. If Carrie and her friends could discuss orgasms over breakfast, why couldn’t the rest of us? 

Honing in on how the characters have aged opened the story up for producers to do something truly revolutionary with the reboot. They had the opportunity to show viewers how women in their 40s, 50s and 60s navigate sex and dating, but they fell at the last hurdle and intimate scenes are few and far between… Miranda’s son Brady seems to be having the most sex out of everyone and he’s only 17.

The women don’t look as they did over 20 years ago, which is ultimately the point, but them not having sex kind of suggests that there’s a cut-off point and that these women have left that part of their lives behind. Why put such emphasis on the women being their true, authentic, older selves to then bypass the chance to show how their sex lives have changed too? 

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande has taken a much more pioneering approach to the topic; they’ve subverted what is considered the onscreen “norm” and are one of few to show a different, more authentic side of things. “Probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to act, is standing in a relaxed manner and looking at my body without judgement,” Thompson later said in a separate interview at the Variety Virtual Sundance Studio. “You ask any woman to do that, I bet 9.9 times out of 10, they won’t be able to do it. 

“But do it on camera? Forget it. We’re used to not liking our bodies. We’ve been trained to hate our bodies from very early on, because they don’t match the impossible and actually cruel ideals that we are presented with.”

“Nothing has changed in the dreadful demands made upon women in the real world but also in acting,” Thompson pointed out. “This thing of having to be thin is still the same as it ever was, and actually in some ways I think it’s worse now.” That might be so but Thompson putting herself out there is the first step in proving that people actually want to see raw, unfiltered beauty. Age, body size, race, and gender have dictated what Hollywood has considered “beautiful” for too long.