Movie review: The Look Of Love

Jay Richardson on Steve Coogan's latest release

‘We’ve got dolphins pulling knickers off girls, what’s not to like?’ demands Steve Coogan at one point during The Look of Love, an affectionate biopic of the late porn and nightclub impresario Paul Raymond. And that’s the film in a nutshell. Blizzards of cocaine, escalating orgies and naked girls cavorting with animals. So why is everyone so depressed?

Reuniting Coogan with director Michael Winterbottom for the fourth time after 24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story and The Trip, the film contains a similar alchemy of comedy and tragedy, taking plenty of liberties with the events of Raymond’s life for a tender portrayal of the millionaire dubbed The King of Soho.

Roguishly charming, egotistically fragile, and with an eye for the ladies and fast cars, Coogan relishes playing up to Raymond’s notoriety, with more than a nod and a wink to his own. Yet The Look of Love also calls upon him to deliver his most vulnerable performance to date. There’s sympathy and warmth in this tale of sleaze, excess and self-destruction.

A compulsive self-mythologiser, born Geoffrey Anthony Quinn, Raymond is fond of telling everyone how he arrived in London a boy from Liverpool with ‘just five bob in his pocket’, and gamely rolls with the punches of censorship and press outrage. He twists the most damning reviews of his nude revues and flesh-exposing farces into positive quotes for his posters, hailing the divorce settlement for his second wife and choreographer Jean (Anna Friel) as the biggest in UK legal history.

The pair’s marriage is shown to be open from the start, with Raymond mixing business with the pleasure of his dancers, all the while maintaining a respectable family life and huge pile in the country. Yet when he transfer his affections to the beautiful Fiona (Tamsin Egerton), you get the first inklings that he may have difficulty reconciling love with his insatiable sex drive, which he reinforces with a glamorous nightlife and growing drug intake. There’s several hints that he may be a sex addict and the real love of his life emerges as his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), determined to follow him into showbusiness.

With a predictable but spot-on soundtrack, the freedom of Twentieth Century Boy giving way to You Sexy Thing as lively parties become grasping orgies, before the comedown of Tainted Love, Winterbottom ably captures London’s swinging sexual revolution turning into something more cynical and exploitative. Playing against type, a bearded Chris Addison is cheerily loathsome as Tony Power, the streetwise, forward-thinking editor of Men Only, coercing an eager Paul and Debbie into his degenerate orbit.

Friel and Egerton are excellent as the long-suffering partners who can’t live with, or completely without, the fun-loving Raymond. And Coogan is never less than watchable, whether delivering an hilarious Marlon Brando impression or stiltedly failing to engage with Raymond’s estranged son.

Featuring cameos from the likes of Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas and Sarah Solemani, there are also more substantial roles for David Walliams as Soho’s notoriously open-minded Reverend Edwyn Young and Dara O’Briain as a cheeky stand-up biting the hand that feeds him, during the opening night of The Comic Strip in the Raymond Revuebar. Watching on, he suffers the Irishman’s backhanded compliment with the tautest of rictus grins. Simon Bird also pops up as Debbie’s jingle-writing husband Jonathan Hodge, an inoffensive geek joining a dysfunctional dynasty.

Throughout, Winterbottom never really challenges Raymond’s assertion that he’s not just a pornographer. And though he captures Soho in all its seedy glory, with acres of naked flesh and merkins on display, the film lacks soul. It obviously has pretensions to a morality tale, of a Midas touch turned to powder. Yet Raymond’s descent into darkness never quite feels universal enough to totally engage.

  • The Look Of Love was reviewed at the Glasgow Film Festival. It is on general release from April 26

Published: 22 Feb 2013

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