Scorcese had DeNiro, Tim Burton has Johnny Depp and back in blighty Michal Winterbottom has Steve Coogan. The Look of Love is the pair’s fourth collaborative piece having stumbled upon a beneficial creative partnership on the set of 24 Hour Party People back in 2002. Coogan however will always be tied to a far greater partner, one that infects a number of his roles with or without his directorial mentor – Alan Partridge. We’ll have to wait until August to see his alter-ego’s first foray into the film world but the shadow of Norfolk’s number one DJ looms large over his incarnation of notorious Soho sex-industry king, Paul Raymond.
It’s a criticism often levelled at Coogan and one that can equally be taken as a compliment. So invested was he with his comic creation that he carries the traits, mannerisms and quirks into much of his own life, often spilling out onto screen. Fortunately here it is more appropriate than usual – Paul Raymond shared Partridge’s fondness for an innuendo, an inappropriate remark and a certain pronunciation.
We meet him towards the end of his life, facing questions from the assembled press outside an inquest for daughter Debbie’s fatal overdose in 1992. From there we travel back through Raymond’s ‘world of erotica’, taking in the humble beginnings of a lion taming/ strip show hybrid and knickers removed by dolphins, winding up at the acquisition of the Soho Revue Bar.
Endlessly pushing the boundaries of acceptability, his empire grew to encompass magazines – Men Only, Escort, Mayfair – venues, and no small number of Soho property establishing him as Britain’s wealthiest man. Peering through the glitter curtain, we bear witness to Raymond’s natural charisma – a born entertainer able to hold court with all comers, proving handy with the press and the fairer sex.
The camera invites us to glimpse the coming and goings of various partners, all approved by his understanding wife Jean (ably portrayed by Anna Friel) and his inevitable dalliance with class A’s – a habit he passes on to his much loved daughter, perfectly played by Imogen Poots, breathing life into her poor little rich girl role.
There are familiar faces everywhere, all sourced from the television comedy world; David Walliams as a seedy priest, his comedic partner Matt Lucas as a stage performer, the geeky one from The Inbetweners not exactly stretching himself as Debbie’s boyfriend and The Thick of It’s Chris Addison playing Raymond’s long-standing business partner.
The script itself comes from more British talent, Control scribe Matt Greenhalgh who overreaches in his ambition, stretching the 100 minute running time to take in 50 years of action, meaning years pass in montage form and details are lost in a blur of cocaine and orgies. A keener edit may’ve ironed out some of the slack and delivered a tighter, more focused finish to this tale of hedonism and dubious familial values.
As it is we are offered an interesting look at London through the ages, held up by a commanding performance by Coogan hinting at man at times plagued by, and indebted to his working class roots in equal measure. It’s a tale tailor made for the screen and with Winterbottom at the helm is one that should have soared. Sadly it didn’t, delivering a worthy but unspectacular biopic of a man and an industry who defined a neighbourhood.