ORIGINALLY titled The King Of Soho, the latest loose, louche collaboration between Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan was forced to change its title after a legal challenge from a rival movie.
The Look Of Love (18)
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Running time: 101 minutes
The new choice for their portrait of Paul Raymond, strip club owner, adult magazine publisher and property baron, is a bit disappointing perhaps, when 24 Hour Porny People is up for grabs.
Coogan plays Raymond, who got his start as a stage hypnotist, then moved into hosting nude revues in the 1950s with his wife Jean (Anna Friel). He soon ditched his birth name of Geoffrey Quinn and his Liverpool accent, but like The Wizard Of Oz, the film blossoms from black and white into colour when Raymond lands in the permissive age of the 1970s.
The Look Of Love takes in the boom years of porn, with Coogan working his way through a series of wigs and moustaches, as well as some of the best Raymond anecdotes. When he puts on an adult revue, one reviewer accuses it of being a thin excuse for “arbitrary displays of naked flesh”. Raymond has the quote strapped outside the theatre as an enticement.
The main focus is Raymond and the women central to his life. Jean is an understanding woman, who tolerates superficial infidelities until Raymond starts being seen in public with a savvy porn actress called Amber St George, who becomes his girlfriend Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton). However the only woman to have his total attention is daughter Debbie Raymond (Imogen Poots), who has the ambition, but not the talent, to become a successful singer.
Raymond bankrolls her up to and including a nightly showcase which haemorrhages money. Yet the film’s most touching and awkward scene is when Raymond agrees to meet an illegitimate son (Simon Bird) for lunch. Raymond is politely interested in the boy, but offers nothing more. After the meal in Raymond’s glamorous flat, the boy is dumped back out on the street. Winterbottom leaves it up to you to decide whether he has had a lucky escape.
Compared with the enjoyable chaos depicted in Winterbottom’s account of Tony Wilson and Factory records in 24 Hour Party People, The Look Of Love unfolds as a relatively straightforward chronology, highlighting Raymond as a fascinating collection of contradictions: a hipster so clueless that he boasts his new flat was designed by Ringo Starr; a sex addict who turns gratification into another routine; and an indulgent dad who had no angst about exploiting other people’s daughters. Coogan is terrific as a man who dislikes delving too deeply into life, having papered over the cracks of his identity with a new name and new money, until one devastating tragedy causes his retreat from public life in 1992.
The women are great too, especially Egerton’s Richmond, an elegant bombshell and pragmatist, who seems to be the only person with the skills to escape the Raymond milieu relatively unscathed.
The Look Of Love feels a little unsatisfying, despite almost two hours spent with naked women, some rather good jokes, prodigious drugs and champagne use, heartstopping laissez-faire attitudes, and a surprisingly benevolent portrait of the porn industry as being no more beastly to women than a pea shelling factory.
Perhaps the real problem is that Raymond lacked real substance and judgment as a man, and the film is almost too faithful in mirroring this.
• On general release from Friday