t h e l o o k o f l o v e
26th April 2013
23rd April 2013
Coogan and Winterbottom are playing for more than laughs this time in the tragicomic biopic of The King of Soho, Paul Raymond, in The Look of Love.
As the film opens we see an elderly Raymond sitting in the back of his Rolls Royce with a young girl of around 8 years old, his grand-daughter Fawn. Fawn is counting the businesses Raymond owns in Soho, which, it turns out, is quite a lot. She asks him why he has so many. He replies that it is for her and mummy. That's why he bought them all. In his Soho penthouse tired, old, hangdog version of Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) is watching a VHS on a dated pop up style TV of an interview with himself and daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots). This melancholy, nostalgic mood is quickly pushed aside as Winterbottom flashes us back to the 50's, to black and white and a lion taming show. With topless girls. A much younger Raymond and wife Jean (Anna Friel) look nervously on as the lion gets dangerously over animated and the topless girls are forced to run out the cage. In staid old Britain at this point girls semi naked were only allowed to remain still, like pictures (see Mrs Henderson Presents for reference and Will Young's acting skills). The furore that ensued from the girl's naked breasts jiggling about gave Raymond an idea, an idea that, along with some extremely smart property investments, made him very,very rich indeed.
So who was Paul Raymond? Well don't expect to come out of The Look of Love with any answers. For the first 40 minutes or so I found it impossible to connect with Raymond. It is hard to see the man beneath the surface and although still enjoying the film, this bothered me. Winterbottom says that when they were researching the film every person they spoke to had a different opinion of Paul Raymond. Seems that he was, a social chameleon. Raymond says several times in the film that his real name isn't even Paul Raymond, it's Jeffrey Quinn. Even when he is telling his only true love, daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), that he is closing her show there is no emotion even though she is crying her eyes out he simply says - it is hemorrhaging money, it must close, don't cry. Likewise when his play is reviewed as 'the worst play ever made', he applauds saying it is as good as being the best play ever made. You see, in Raymond land, to be talked about badly is better than to not be talked about at all. We don't get to know either of them. The idea that Winterbottom seems to be presenting here is that Paul Raymond doesn't exist when other people aren't around. Whenever there are scenes of Raymond alone in his penthouse he doesn't do much, it's as if he's demobilised until someone appears and the Paul Raymond show begins.
I felt this is the best role Coogan has had (obviously aside from Francie "Touchy" Feeley in Moone Boy). He does a fantastic job, mostly avoiding making Raymond a cliché and just being infinitely watchable. It is a scene with Tamsin Egerton's Fiona Richmond that we see some softness as he lies in her arms and she strokes his head. This was quite the turning point for me, I started to love the movie after this point. There are some naff jokes and cheesy one-liners but this all serves to make us warm to Raymond more, there was no malice in him, he always seems so childlike in everything he did, or with at least some good intentions that makes him hard to dislike, even when he is directing a Sapphic porn shoot on a pool table.
The three women in Paul's life are excellently played by Friel, Egerton and Poots. From looks alone one would think Egerton was a shoe in for the part (her legs are as long as me) but I was surprised by her and the gravitas and humanity she brought to the role. She grows as Fiona Richmond the globe trotting shagging diarist for Men Only to tiring of Paul the playboy - the endless threesomes, the coke, the roof of the penthouse rolling back to reveal the stars for the twentieth time. Egerton plays these disappointments out subtly on her pretty face. It's a thoughtful and surprising performance. Likewise Friel is marvelous as Jean, mother of his children, veering from young wife to tanned and desperate 40 something who poses for Men Only and flirts with her daughter's husband – at their wedding. Cringe. Then we have Imogen Poots. This is a great year for Imogen, also good in A Late Quartet, but here she gives poor little rich girl Debbie heart, sadness and emptiness. We know what is going to happen to Debbie and we watch her career around desperately trying to find something she is good at, bankrolled by a father who doesn't know how else to support her other than just give her everything she asks for. Her scenes with Coogan are lovely and they have great chemistry. It's a heartbreaking performance from Poots. Fiona and Debbie each want what the other one has, Fiona looks with envy when Raymond says he would never let his daughter go topless, she is too precious and Debbie desperately wants the fame and attention of Fiona.
The rest of the cast is outstanding and jolly good fun. David Walliams (just managing to pull himself away from the edge of Carry on Vicar) Chris Addison as visionary/coke head Tony Power (what a name) who drags Raymond down to more sleazy depths is sublime. It’s good to see him play someone with a bit more of an edge. Suits him. . James Lance is great as Carl Snitcher (!) and Simon Bird has a fun cameo as Debbie's doomed husband. Other cameos come from Matt Lucas and Stephen Fry as a judge and Divine. See if you can guess who plays who. My only gripe is that Shirley Henderson was criminally wasted.
This is a great looking film, some magnificent production and costume design and hair and make up means we get the glitz and glamour without going overboard. To 'do' period particularly 70's and 80's without a huge budget is to tread a thin line of ludicracy and believability it has been pulled off with panache. No pun intended.
We return to that Rolls Royce at the end of the film. Raymond repeats that he bought all the businesses for her and mummy. Fawn replies 'I don't want them, I want my mummy'. A bit heavy handed maybe but the point, or pointlessness, of it all is right there. Raymond then takes Fawn to his favourite cake shop in Soho (which he sadly doesn't own) and starts repeating the mistakes he made with Debbie – that's all he knows how to do. However Fawn isn't Debbie and we are left with the hope she will follow a very different path to her mother.
There have been reports of Howard, Raymond's son, being unhappy about the film (he has his own project The King of Soho in development hence the name changed to The Look of Love). Winterbottom is presenting a story about Paul Raymond, an interpretation and seeing as Raymond himself had a convenient relationship with the truth it is probably best to be taken with a pinch of salt and good humour. The Look of Love seduces on many levels and I loved every minute of it.