Culture: Film

The Look Of Love

Steve Coogan as Paul Raymond in The Look Of Love

Steve Coogan does his best to inhabit the doomed Paul Raymond, founder of Soho’s infamous Raymond Revue Bar, in this well-meant biopic, but he is hampered by a script that does the unforgivable – make erotica look boring.

Halfway through watching Michael Winterbottom’s biopic of the rise to riches of Soho porn king, Paul Raymond, I realised that even though this was supposed to be Raymond’s life story I was actually learning very little about him. Indeed, it was as if huge chunks of Raymond’s life had been totally forgotten about. Either that or the filmmakers loved the man so much they didn’t want to show the darker side of his empire, instead lamely choosing to depict an ordinary man who just happened to have made his money from selling sex.

The film charts Raymond’s life from his humble background as a mind reader. He moves on to getting nude women to stand still in a cage with a lion (until the lion moves and so do the girls). After breaking the rules of the then Lord Chamberlain, Raymond decides to open a members only club in which men can watch naked women dance and move without prosecution. The world famous Raymond Revue bar is born and heralds the start of his ‘world of Erotica’. Raymond’s private life, however, is fast becoming a mess. His long suffering wife, Jean, files for an expensive divorce after he starts a long affair with a young performer called Amber, who later becomes his prize possession in his Men Only magazine as Fiona Richmond. All this time, Raymond is buying up Soho, for his daughter Debbie to take over. The excesses of wealth take their toll when Debbie becomes addicted to drink and cocaine, while Raymond loses his grip on the women in his life through his own hedonism.

Despite solid performances and a strong sense of period the Look of Love fails. Michael Winterbottom, who you would have thought was the perfect director for material as risky as this – after such films as the excellent biopic  24 Hour Party People  and the sexually explicit 9 Songs – seems to have gone soft. He ignores any moralistic arguments about sexism within the industry and the gritty aspects of Raymond’s world (the highly publicised feuds with various gangs and bribing of the police) to give us a thoroughly decent chap whose one foible was a penchant for  showing off naked women. It’s all very light and consequently not particularly interesting. The latter part of the film, consisting of Raymond’s boozy nocturnal shenanigans, is tediously repetitive.

Steve Coogan as Raymond, for all his worth in trying, gives us little more than Alan Partridge with long hair and a medallion. Even some of his sentence structures sound like his Norfolk DJ. It’s a pity, as Coogan is an accomplished actor, as proven in the aforementioned 24 Hour Party People, where he played Manchester impresario Tony Wilson. As Raymond he is undeniably likeable, but one suspects that the pornographer extraordinaire was often not as nice as this.

The film also focuses on the three main women in Raymond’s life. As his wife, Jean, Anna Friel’s part is woefully underwritten and leaves the character with nothing much to do. Tamsin Egerton is better served as Fiona Richmond and gives a commanding performance. As Raymond’s beloved daughter, Debbie, Imogen Poots shines. Although again not the best written character, Poots gives a towering performance as the troubled young girl. This poignant figure is really at the heart of the film.

The problem is that Winterbottom’s film feels rather small, particularly considering how big the story is. It could easily have sat on the small screen as a one-off TV drama. This isn’t helped much by the casting of well-known TV comics – Chris Addison as Raymond’s Men only editor, David Walliams as Soho’s horny little vicar and Stephen Fry as a barrister. The presence of such house hold names lightens the experience, giving it the feeling of a bit of saucy, harmless fun. It’s a shame, as somewhere in the material is a much darker tale to be told. The disappointment here is that erotica never looked so dull.

Words: Stuart Wren

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