The Look of Love
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Paul Raymond builds a porn, entertainment and real estate empire that makes him the wealthiest man in Britain, but drugs doom his beloved daughter, Debbie.
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★★★½ review by Mark Cunliffe on Letterboxd
The Look Of Love, a film based on the life of Soho porn and property baron Paul Raymond, could be considered the sister to the previous Winterbottom/Coogan attempt at a biopic, that of the life of Anthony H Wilson and Factory Records, 24 Hour Party People.
Now, I won't have a word said against 24 Hour Party People personally, but the oft raised complaint against that great film was that a viewer needed to have some knowledge of Wilson, Factory et al so elliptical and chaotically sporadic was the narrative. Eleven years on, The Look Of Love follows that same pattern/style and, as savvy as I like to think I am about 70s sexploitation and Paul Raymond, I must admit I didn't know the full story (unlike I did with Factory) and so the gaps, or the sweeping over of some strands in the story, were a little frustrating this time around. Too many characters appear and disappear (Simon Bird as Debbie Raymond's husband) whilst others are often not really explained or properly introduced at all (David Walliams' seedy man of the cloth, and Shirley Henderson and Kieran O'Brien as...what, fellow club owners?)
Nevertheless the film looks absolutely gorgeous, fully capitalising on the ostentatious flavour of Raymond and the 70s setting. It feels like you're watching Steve Coogan playing Peter Sellers playing Paul Raymond, which is no bad thing and is perhaps further enhanced by the use of Burt Bacharach and Hal David music throughout the film (Sellers got his love scene with Ursula Andress in Casino Royale to 'The Look Of Love' after all) I have to say it's one of Steve's finest dramatic performances - there's very little out and out humour from him in the film - and the relationship between him and Imogen Poots as Raymond's much doted on daughter Deborah is well played, heartfelt and convincing providing the film's emotional and affecting core. I also think it's the best performance I've seen from Poots, who played a similar tragic spoilt daddy's girl in the ill advised ITV remake of Andrea Newman's A Bouquet Of Barbed Wire a couple of years ago.
Of the rest of the cast, Chris Addison goes hell for leather at distancing himself away from the inneffectual Olli Reeder from The Thick Of It with his performance as the coke addicted bon vivant bearded pornographer Tony Power, but it's not one that always rings true. Much better are Anna Friel as Raymond's wife Jean, and Tamsin Egerton as Fiona Richmond; although she is far more beautiful and than the real Fiona Richmond ever was. Some of the comedian cameos are a little laboured though; I'm not sure we needed Stephen Fry's barrister, Walliams' vicar, Matt Lucas mimicking Divine or Dara O'Briain having the difficult role of representing the whole of The Comic Strip Presents.
The Look Of Love is a film that, whilst utterly spot on in its evocation of the era, is frank and unflinching in its depiction of drug abuse and pornography (much nudity abounds) and absolutely nailing what I imagine is Winterbottom's desire to put people's lives, warts and all, right up there on the screen in a very tangible and honest way, only ever hints at greatness. It will, for me, remain in 24 Hour Party People's shadow.
★★★½ review by Andy Summers on Letterboxd
I'm sure the name Paul Raymond will mean little to people outside of the UK. For British residents however Raymond will be remembered for numerous reasons. In 1992 he was the richest man in the UK. Some will remember him for his revue bar and breaking down of inhibitions in London's Soho district. For many though especially men of a certain age he will be the man who brought smut to the mainstream.
Paul Raymond will state during this film that he was "not a pornographer". Err, he was. He may have tried to hide the fact that he was responsible for corrupting young minds with titles like "Men Only" and other scuddy-mags, but in truth I think he took great pride in the legacy he started and left behind. This biopic of his life from 1958 to his daughter's untimely death in 1992 is a bohemian and decadent look at an entrepreneur who changed the culture of British life forever with his openness to sexuality and nudity. He was a serial shagger and loved the limelight and his champagne lifestyle. He also brought soft-core porn to every newsagent in Britain (if you're American think Larry Flynt) and did it in a way that made him a minor celebrity in the process. He was a complex character who doted on his daughter and afforded her every luxury including a freedom that would eventually lead to her death. This film covers the more controversial moments in his life from love to loss, from fame to seclusion. A interesting tale of debauchery this does show that porn does pay and pay very well. Raymond also owned half of Soho and his property empire certainly helped his standing in Britain's rich list.
Steve Coogan is a chameleon. He can take on any part and make it his own. He was Paul Raymond. He was Anthony Wilson in "24 Hour Party People", he just has that knack of embodying the person he's portraying. Backed by a strong cast of British actors including comedian Chris Addison, Anna Friel and the beautiful Imogen Poots who plays Raymond's tragic daughter Debbie, Coogan is the standout here. A decent biopic, Michael Winterbottom again doesn't shy away from plenty of nudity and a straight forward approach to the drug-taking that was rife in the company Raymond kept. Simple but powerful this is a fascinating look at a fascinating man.
★★★½ review by Mark Cunliffe on Letterboxd
"Not bad for a boy who arrived from Liverpool with five bob in his pocket"
See previous review here.
★★★½ review by Lroy on Letterboxd
As someone largely ignorant of Paul Raymond and his profitable entrepreneurial dealings in the world of British erotica, I approached THE LOOK OF LOVE more as a vehichle for Steve Coogan than a historically accurate biopic. To this end, I was handsomely rewarded, as Coogan gives a performance characteristic of his easy charm but not without dramatic depth too.
Covering a period from the late-fifties to the early nineties, the narrative feels rather sprawling yet superficial but Director Winterbottom gives proceedings a pleasing visual variety evocative of the times. There's also an ample amount of female nudity in keeping with the subject material and I for one was happy to actually watch an eighteen-certificate film, a rarity these days.
The Count's Verdict: At its core, this tale of excess and tragedy is a familar one but a fine supporting cast (Anna Friel, Chris Addison, Imogen Poots, Tamsin Egerton), helps to keep you interested and entertained. Plus in its most affecting moments, THE LOOK OF LOVE, does manage to convey a genuine sense of the estrangement felt between a father and his family.
★★★½ review by Arnold Furious on Letterboxd
Not without its flaws the Look of Love is a biopic of porn-king Paul Raymond and his lesser known daughter Debbie. Michael Winterbottom's film comes across as Scorsese-lite, with some interesting cinematography and excellent musical choices but lacking in Scorsese's pacing. Not every scene in the Look of Love is crucial and it takes too long to get to the crux of the film; Raymond's relationship with his daughter. Imogen Poots is Winterbottom's ace up the sleeve. Her turn in the second half of the picture is magnificent.
The film's biggest problem is trying to overlook Steve Coogan being there but whereas in 24 Hour Party People Coogan managed to change himself enough to do that product justice, he simply can't manage Raymond. Luckily most of his scenes are with Anna Friel, Poots or Tamsin Egerton and when he's with those ladies, he's at his best. There's no escaping a certain failure on the drama front, especially as certain scenes play out sans drama (Fiona's departure from Men Only, the overdose) but there is a lot of nudity. The story lacks a punch but has a big hug waiting for you. A big naked hug.
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