[review] the look of love
Promoter, publisher, pornographer; Soho’s original King of Sin Paul Raymond and his empire of erotica swell in Michael Winterbottom’s new biopic “The Look of Love.”
London’s dense, colourful gay village was a bit drab and deep fried before wheelers like Paul Raymond smutted up its streets in the 1950′s and along with the jazz heads and rock ‘n’ rollers transformed the slate grey into throbbing red. Nowadays, Raymond’s two granddaughters strut the same pavements, literally richer than the Queen of England.
In “The Look of Love” Steve Coogan plays Raymond, as an affable, if slightly lewd egomaniac who spends a career flouting the censors, fondling his starlets and swallowing the shops and bars of Soho like they were sweets. He sheds lives and women artlessly and navigates a scattering of offspring, some adored, some blatantly ignored. Coogan is entertainingly generous to his role. Drowning in fur, ruffles and house champagne he offers up nettle wit and brilliantly awkward humour that the real Raymond was never known for. In scenes where Raymond is obliged to express tenderness as a father or partner, Coogan has a wonderful handle on Raymond’s emotional rigidity and discomfort.
For those who may have missed them, the great familiar characters of Titties and Coke make frequent appearances, revealed from robes of insistent Britishness. Imogen Poots plays Raymond’s daughter Debbie with delicacy, as a soft, spirited rose who adores her father but doesn’t possess the grit to defend herself against his lifestyle. Tamsin Egerton is elegant as the infamous Fiona Richmond, whom Raymond left his wife for to lead nude astride a white horse down Dean Street. Tamsin’s drinkable long legs and remarkable beauty are thankfully confined to a cinema, for all the staring that cannot be avoided. And as usual it’s titillating to see comedian Stephen Fry, in short cameo, doffing a lawyer’s wig.
Despite his success and legacy, Raymond died a miserable recluse, bound to a wheelchair, curtains drawn in his penthouse, unable to digest the loss of his beloved daughter Debbie, who died from the drugs she often did with her father. The film glosses over this tragedy in Raymond’s life, in a series of misused flashbacks and forwards, which vaguely suggest a simpleton disapproval of the excesses of drugs and porn and a nudge at Raymond’s hand in the death of his daughter. No true exploration is bothered with, no gutsy analysis of a crushed man who lost the one thing he cared for besides accumulation, no reflection on the disturbing habitualness with which he sat there, heartbroken in his last days, methodically adding to his capital. The film misses an opportunity to really prise into Raymond, whom Coogan finely suggests is suspiciously dull and conservative behind the indulgence and liberalism which he promotes.
For all the girls slipping off their unmentionables, this film never actually undresses. It lacks the courage to delve into the loins of character or story and revel in naked emotion or raw edges. It’s an entertaining comedy, but due to this avoidance it renders itself a basic one.
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