The Look of Love (2013)
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Matt Lucas, Anna Friel
Synopsis: The life of Paul Raymond, the controversial entrepreneur who became Britain’s richest man.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Paul Raymond was Britain’s answer to Hugh Hefner. Graduating from titillating revue shows on stage, he became the publisher of Men Only, probably Britain’s foremost top-shelf magazine at the time. In fact, leafing through the pages of some dog-eared copy of one of his mags was almost like a young boy’s rite of passage back in the 1970s. Raymond was quite a prominent figure as well, and although always immaculately dressed in suit and tie, with his timeworn face framed by hair that was too long for a man his age and partly concealed behind an unflattering, droopy moustache, he always looked like he should be skulking around some back-street porn cinema in a grubby mac.
In the Look of Love — a second-choice title foisted upon the film’s makers following a legal challenge over their use of ‘The King of Soho’ by Raymond’s son, who was also working on a movie about his father at the time — Steve Coogan plays Raymond. While he perfectly captures the look of the man, he fails to persuade us that the person he’s portraying isn’t just another in his long line of TV characters created especially for the screen. Coogan is, and always will be, haunted by the ghost of Alan Partridge, it seems. The film itself feels very disjointed in its early stages as the movie glosses over his early years in the business in its haste to get to the juicy stuff. Anna Friel plays Raymond’s wife, Jean, who paid the price for accepting an open marriage when Raymond left her for porn actress and Men Only columnist Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton).
But the relationship which forms the core of the movie isn’t the one between Raymond and any of his sexual partners, but between him and his psychologically fragile daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots). Debbie has the air of tragedy about her from the outset, and Poots does a good job of capturing her vulnerability. Introduced to drugs by Tony Powers (Chris Addison), one of her father’s associates at Men Only, her sense of inadequacy sends her on a hellish descent into drug addiction which sees her father having to cut her a line of coke in hospital as she’s about to deliver her first child. Even if we didn’t already know her fate, Debbie’s doom would have been obvious, and as Raymond himself lived into his 80s, she serves as the film’s inevitable moral compass. Raymond’s life in the movie is defined by its hedonism, and cinematic convention decrees that the message must be relayed that such an existence is a bad thing — even if its practitioner lives to a hale and hearty 82-years-old.
In truth, Raymond was apparently devastated by her death of an overdose at the age of 36, and withdrew into a reclusive shell, spending the last years of his life in a penthouse suite near the Ritz Hotel. But strangely the film chooses not to dwell on Raymond’s years of decline, as if it’s just a coda to the real body of his life, which came to an end with his daughter’s death. But the movie’s main weakness is in the way that much of what takes place on screen comes across as nothing more than a series of snapshots of his life rather than a journey that ebbs and flows in the way that everyone’s life does. It touches briefly on Raymond’s own insecurities before quickly cutting away to shots of cocaine being snorted from a naked starlet’s body, as if frightened — or disgusted — by the idea of really getting to grips with its subject matter.