Whether recounting the autobiographical tale of a renowned public figure in 24 Hour Party People (Tony Wilson) or adapting the supposedly unfilmable novel which charts the life of a fictional character in A Cock and Bull Story, director Michael Winterbottom and actor Steve Coogan are a formidable partnership when it comes to regaling an audience with what can easily be considered quintessentially British films. Winterbottom’s latest offering, The Look of Love, marks their fourth collaboration and documents the life of Paul Raymond, a controversial entrepreneur who shot to fame in 60’s Soho with his chain of strip clubs and adult publications, and his impressive rise throughout the 70’s to the position of Britain’s richest man.
Instead of focusing solely on the exploits that made Raymond infamous, The look of Love is an in depth character study that doesn’t shy away from his roles as a father and husband, which appear far more demanding to Raymond than working in a profession associated with scantily clad ladies and readily available drugs. There are moments of bleakness throughout the screenplay (such as a stand out scene where Raymond meets his estranged son) but for the most part the decadence of the era, which is shown through the glamour and excess of Raymond and his associates, lightens the mood enough for Winterbottom’s film to be an enjoyable diversion whether audiences are familiar with the story or not.
Alan Partridge aside, Coogan has never seemed more at home in a character than in his portrayal of Paul Raymond. Sleazy yet charismatic, Coogan is perfectly cast in the leading role and it is impressive to see him handle the more tender and heartfelt moments of this drama with an emotional depth rarely seen in his acting career. Throughout his life Raymond’s obsession with women is ever prevalent; his wife (Anna Friel) and his lover, Amber (Tamsin Egerton), both have a huge impact on him but none more so than the daughter he dotes on. Debbie (Imogen Poots) appears to be the only girl he cannot bear to be without and Poots displays a wonderful naivety when Debbie is plunged into her father’s world of adult entertainment at a young age. Despite this it is Egerton’s alluring performance that stands out, and as Amber seduces Raymond, the audience will inevitably follow suit.
As is often the case with Winterbottom’s films, appearances by British comedy stalwarts such as Stephen Fry, David Walliams and Dara O’Briain provide welcome comic relief even if their screen time is limited, and in some cases it is disappointing that their characters are not utilised more.
Whilst The Look of Love is not quite as accomplished as Winterbottom’s previous autobiographical efforts, it is still nonetheless a captivating study of the man fondly remembered by many as the King of Soho. Not all of the emotional notes will strike a chord with the audience but those that do will linger, and the relationship between Paul Raymond and his carefree daughter Debbie is a joy to behold. The Look of Love may struggle to find an audience but those who seek it out will be rewarded with a surprisingly moving autobiography that showcases Steve Coogan at his best.