The Look Of Love
Director Michael Winterbottom Stars Steve Coogan, Imogen Poots, Tamsin Egerton, Anna Friel, Chris Addison UK/USA 2013 Language English 1hr 41mins Colour and black & white
Billionaire filth merchant lovingly recalled
You know the old George Best joke: football reporter comes into the player’s room at the Ritz. The room is strewn with the latest fashionable togs, empty bottles of Bolly, and bank notes in assorted currencies. George is in bed, with a naked Miss World draped over him. ‘George!’ comes the anguished cry of the man from Fleet Street, ‘Where did it all go wrong?’
So here’s Paul Raymond, the richest man in Britain, having put the profits of sin into the yet more lucrative property, and one with limitless access to sexually willing, attractive young women. And yet, like the dark irony the grim final decades of Best’s life added to that joke, it’s still all going to end badly.
As well as being something of an old-fashioned morality tale (although not told in the style of one) Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan’s fourth collaboration is a look at a man who symbolised Britain’s rapid passage from a country where naked women weren’t allowed to move on stage to one in which Winterbottom himself made a (dismally dull) film with unfaked sex for mainstream cinema release (9 Songs), and respectable young women take pole-dancing classes.
After a prologue, we join Raymond (Coogan) in the ’50s (filmed in lovely crisp black and white), already in the business of naked female flesh, and fast becoming, with wife Jean (Anna Friel), a favourite of the more populist newspapers. Soon we are into the ’60s and colour, as Raymond, the King of Soho, benefits from the loosening of the censorship laws.
This was Steve Coogan’s project – he took the idea to Winterbottom. But he’s the weak link here – his Raymond is a slightly blanker variation on standard indie Coogan, not helped by familiar lines like ‘Oscar Wilde said that’ and, yes, an impersonation of Connery as Bond (I’m sure he regards this as a true measure of acting – that Coogan-as-Raymond-as-Connery-as-Bond is clumsier, to a precise degree, than Coogan-as-Connery-as-Bond. But all you actually think is, oh, another Coogan impersonation).
Fortunately, the film is anchored by two compelling but very differently pitched performances – Tasmin Egerton is light and charming as the aspiring model/actress who becomes, several name changes on, Fiona Richmond*, a massive star in Britain’s smutty ’70s**. Imogen Poots is much rawer as Debby, the daughter who became pretty the sole recipient of Paul Raymond’s love and hopes, something that created an unbearable burden for her.
I also liked Chris Addison as Raymond’s publishing guru, Tony Power. This isn’t really a comedy (although it has funny moments, and doesn’t treat all its characters terribly seriously), but as was 24 Hour Party People, it’s packed with familiar sketch show and sitcom faces, mostly appearing fleetingly, apart from (alas) David Walliams as the Soho vicar.
Casting aside, it’s a conventional modern biopic, with none of the formal playfulness of 24HPP. There is, appropriately, an awful lot of nudity as Raymond stage shows and magazine photoshoots are loving recreated, with the effect that, like the Soho regulars in the film, you hardly notice it after a while. Like most Winterbottom films, this is a good-looking piece of cinema – there can be a false opposition between directors who care about visuals and those collaborate with their casts, but Winterbottom exists happily in both camps.
I think this is the least effective of the Coogan/Winterbottom projects, but then I really enjoyed A Cock And Bull Story and loved 24 Hour Party People and The Trip. It’s still sharp and entertaining and – thanks mainly to Poots – even moving.
*Richmond has said she doesn’t like the film – but likes Egerton’s performance. It’s not hard to see why.
**During the time of playboy manager Malcolm Allison, Richmond paid a visit to a Crystal Palace training session, and shared a bath afterwards with the team. This, sadly, is not recreated in the film.