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British Film Review: The Look Of Love
Review by Stuart Wright
The Look Of Love is a biopic about an easily overlooked chapter in British popular culture. It charts the unstoppable rise of Paul Raymond: failed showman, promoter of titillating farces, generous family man, owner of large swathes of Soho, philanderer, pornographer in denial and ultimately the richest man in Britain. It stars Steve Coogan in the lead role and is directed by Michael Winterbottom - two of the main talents behind 2002's fast and loose biopic: 24 Hour Party People. They are buoyed by Matt Greenhalgh's (Nowhere Boy, Control) impressive script that manages to straddle a number of decades, and draw in many interesting characters, without losing sight of the central tale - Paul Raymond's life.
Raymond's put upon wife, Jean, played by Anna Friel, provides a stable family life bringing up their two children: Howard and Debbie - the opposite of his own father who walked out when he was a child. Friel does the pained, tolerant missus with ease. It's almost like she is keeping her powder dry until she gets to explode Jean's new found confidence and sensuality much later in the movie.
Nevertheless his night time worklife in Soho gives him the pick of beautiful women and he relishes these vapid treats until he meets Amber - a mesmerising posh girl played by the captivating Tamsin Egerton (St Trinians I & II). Their relationship edges Jean out of the picture and Amber is eventually reborn as UK's first glamour icon, Fiona Richmond - the face, tits and ass of Men Only. This inaugural foray into softcore pornography publishing under the coke-fuelled tutelage of Tony Power turns Paul Raymond into a global brand. The curly wig, beard and glasses of Power transforms the innocent boyish looks of Thick Of It's Chris Addison into a manic Dave Lee Travis-type Dr Feelgood character.
The Look of Love is in some respects a neo-saucy British comedy for the first half of the movie. Raymond would certainly approve as Coogan ably delivers some coarse seventies style laughs with aplomb.
"Name me one person who's never had a wank," he says to one member of the press.
However, this modern fable of decadence is spiked with emotional fragility. And it is in these down moments where Coogan's portrayal of Raymond shows us the vulnerable human being trapped behind a smarmy, confident front.
Raymond enjoys a peculiarly obsessive relationship with his daughter, Debbie. Whereas his son, Howard, is only on screen to help show off Raymond's disappointment in him.
Raymond's willingness to do absolutely anything for Debbie whilst at the same time never shielding her from his debauched lifestyle is weird as it is shocking. On the surface he is grooming her to become the heir to the Raymond empire. Unfortunately, we the audience see him slowly destroying the only person he truly loves.
When Debbie gets wed there's a glimmer of hope for the Raymond's as the family is dutifully reunited. Jean returns from time in the States, blonde and tanned - a real vision of beauty. She rejects Raymond's desperate advances, but soon after agrees to a photo shoot for Men Only. Anna Friel's lusty session in front of Raymond's camera ably shows him what he could have had and no doubt steamed up Winterbottom's lens too.
As age catches up on Raymond, Winterbottom shows him refusing to believe he's like everyone else, even when tragedy befalls him, but the joie de vivre has been replaced by: back pains and an ever-increasing bouffant hairstyle.
Money can't buy love The Beatles sung, but as this film shows you, it gets you enough instant gratification to last a lifetime - and begs the question who wouldn't be tempted? Coogan's Raymond wasn't a bad man per se. He built a mighty business empire and many shared in that wealth and prosperity. But he was a lousy husband and, on the evidence of this film, an even worse father. The Look Of Love is a brilliant British story of glamour, family, love and tragedy.
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