Steve Coogan and Michael Winterbottom reunite to tell the story of Paul Raymond, who rose from small-time seaside entertainer to the richest man in Britain.
While the film ostensibly charts Raymond’s career as owner of the UK’s first strip club to men’s magazine publisher and property tycoon, the focus is in fact on the failed relationships with the important women in his world. The Look of Love almost splits Raymond’s life into three parts, the story built around his marriage to Jean, then relationship with long-time girlfriend Fiona Richmond, and later on his reconnection with daughter Debbie.
Winterbottom captures the apparent gleam of sophistication, the free-spirited mood of his subject’s era, but he also manages to undercut it with the sense that this scene in Britain was never sexy; that while Raymond saw himself not as a pornographer, or purveyor of smut, but a sophisticate, bringing the glamour of somewhere like Paris in the belle époque to shady Soho, there was always an inherent ridiculousness to it, that it was all a bit crap.
This is given a bit more bite with the deep sense of melancholy running beneath the whole film. It begins with Raymond as an old man, reminiscing by watching old VHS tapes, and this mood of regret and sadness permeates throughout – he becomes increasingly successful, but beneath all the champagne and Rolls Royces his life becomes increasingly meaningless with it.
The performances of those women central to his life help lift the film. Anna Friel, as his wife Jean Raymond, gives her best on-screen performance I’ve seen, excelling as a woman who becomes increasingly disillusioned with her husband’s lifestyle, and manic when he leaves her for one of his flings. Tamsin Egerton brings a sweet vulnerability to Fiona, while Imogen Poots shows lots of promise as Raymond’s daughter Debbie, bringing depth to an otherwise thinly sketched character desperately trying to succeed in the same world as her father, but unable to cope with failure or handle the party scene.
The role of Paul Raymond is similar to those Coogan is famed for, egocentric self-publicists with bad hair like Alan Partridge or Tony Wilson, and it showcases his strengths while also allowing him to tap into some more dramatic reserves.
So while this all sounds good, the problem is that I always had a feeling of disconnect with the film, that I was never totally engaged with material that flashes by in a scant 101 minutes. The direction is fine and as accomplished as you would expect from someone as talented as Winterbottom, and the support cast talented, but the whole production has the feel of something disposable, that this is not a cinema-worthy story the way it’s told here.
In the end The Look of Love doesn’t offer anything exceptional, anything truly original or shocking (which one might expect from its subject matter). But despite all this, it’s still a film I would recommend, but only to stick on at home on a lazy evening rather than make a special trip to the cinema.
The Look of Love is out now and can be seen in select cinemas around the country.
The Look of Love
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Written by: Matt Greenhalgh
Cast: Steve Coogan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots, Tamsin Egerton, Chris Addison.
Released by: FilmFour/Madman