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Posts Tagged ‘The Look of Love’

It must be quite curious to be Steve Coogan: undoubtedly a massive talent, and a man with a significant international career (he tends to pop up in one or two Hollywood movies a year, albeit usually quirky supporting roles), easily capable of selling out major live tours in the UK – and yet his CV is still dominated by one comedy character he first performed on radio over twenty years ago. He might, perhaps, be forgiven for feeling that his career has faltered somewhat, certainly compared to some of the predictions that were being made ten or fifteen years ago.

And yet he can still lead, and perhaps more importantly open a movie. Many of his most interesting recent parts have emerged from his collaborations with Michael Winterbottom, an endlessly prolific and unpredictable director. It was Coogan and Winterbottom who made 24 Hour Party People in 2002, a look at a particular slice of British cultural history framed as a biopic (and possibly the only biopic in history whose subject turned up uninvited to press conferences promoting the film, solely in order to stand at the back and heckle the film-makers).

There’s something similar about Winterbottom’s new movie, The Look of Love, which Coogan also stars in – although they are unlikely to be harassed by its disgruntled subjects this time around, as most of the principals are safely deceased. Coogan plays Paul Raymond, the self-styled ‘King of Soho’ (this was apparently going to be the title of the movie until it transpired that Raymond’s own heirs were planning a biography with that title).

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The movie opens in 1958, with Raymond presented as a fairly small-time seaside impressario (his big success is with a show featuring topless lion-taming) However, a move to London and the opening of the glitzy ‘Raymond Revuebar’ leads to much more substantial success, and the abolition of the Lord Chamberlain’s powers of theatrical censorship in 1968 offers much wider opportunities in the field of adult entertainment.¬† As the film acknowledges, you are never likely to lose money with a business plan based around charging to look at naked women, but the financial rewards Raymond reaps come at the expense of the collapse of his marriage (Anna Friel plays Raymond’s wife, and does so rather well).

New girlfriend (Tamsin Egerton) in tow, Raymond enters the seventies intent on an odyssey of bacchanalian excess and slightly shabby bad-taste glamour, branching out into property investment and adult publishing. As time passes, the film makes it increasingly clear that the only meaningful relationship in Raymond’s life is the one he has with his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots, who I believe we can legitimately refer to as a rising star following her many recent successes), but the involvement of a fragile young woman in the world Raymond inhabits comes at a price.

As I mentioned, Steve Coogan is best-known as a comedy performer, and the shadow of the Partridge to some extent hangs over his work here – it’s hard not to conclude that his history playing pompous and slightly absurd figures was one of the factors which led to his being cast here. And, apart from the three women already mentioned, he’s backed up by a supporting cast which is essentially a who’s who of contemporary British comic talent – everyone from David Walliams to Dara O’Briain (who, somewhat oddly, appears to have been cast as Alexei Sayle, though this is left implicit).

So, as you’d expect, this is a film containing some very funny moments, most of them admittedly in questionable taste – the subject matter of Raymond’s businesses and lifestyle has resulted in the film getting an 18 certificate (which, incidentally, has doubtless impacted on its box office returns – I was the only punter at the afternoon showing I attended). Coogan carries all this off with the aplomb you might expect.

However, the strange thing about The Look of Love is that the casting doesn’t really reflect the main thrust of the story, because this is not at its heart the off-colour farce or jolly mickey-take of Raymond you might expect. This is really a tragedy, of sorts, and an attempt to examine the paradox at the heart of Paul Raymond – an absolutely devoted, loving father, who nevertheless uses and exploits women on a literally industrial scale, his success as a property tycoon, entrepreneur, and pornographer making him the wealthiest man in the UK.

Then again, I may be misreading the intent of the film, as this element of the plot takes a while to really get going, prior to which we are treated to various jolly japes and escapades featuring Raymond and his relationships with the characters played by Friel and Egerton. On the other hand, the film is framed by an absolutely desolated Raymond recalling his relationship with his daughter, so…

Anyway, Coogan gives a fantastic performance, managing to find some humanity behind Raymond’s ridiculous image, and he’s genuinely touching when confronted by the failures of his various relationships and the various tribulations in his daughter’s life. Imogen Poots is as classy as ever as Debbie Raymond.

Despite all this, I didn’t find this as satisfying as some of Coogan and Winterbottom’s previous collaborations. Partly this is down to the unevenness of tone, partly due to a sense of having seen this kind of film done numerous times before. I think perhaps it’s also down to the ambiguity of the film – on the one hand there’s a lot of implied criticism of Raymond’s overblown lifestyle and business concerns, but on the other we’re treated to a lot of shapely female flesh in various poses and combinations. As ever, there’s a thin line between making fun of prurience and simply being prurient yourself.

However, this isn’t a bad film, by any means – the period settings are convincing, the story rattles along engagingly, and the performances are accomplished. It never quite gets to the heart of its central character, but it still does a good enough job of telling his rather peculiar story to be worth a look.

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