Referring to director Michael Winterbottom’s latest film The Look of Love (2013) as a drama / comedy, is something of a misnomer. Starring flavour of the moment Steve Coogan in a seldom seen straight role, along with a supporting cast featuring the cream of British character actors, this biopic of Soho porn baron Paul Raymond – the self-made multimillionaire and Britain’s answer to Hugh Hefner – may certainly be high in tension, but the laughs are decidedly few and far between.
The film charts the seemingly unstoppable rise of Paul Raymond (Coogan) who, from his humble beginnings in 1920’s Liverpool, went on between the 1950’s and 1980’s to become one of the richest and most successful property and publishing magnets in British history.
At one point in The Look of Love an acquaintance of Raymond says to him that it indeed seems that everything he touches ‘turns to gold’! Which may have appeared true to those on the outside. Starting from nothing (as he repeatedly reminds people throughout the movie) Raymond amassed a huge fortune built on the purveyance of porn to the masses, eventually making him at one point, the richest man in Britain. However, gold is frequently used to disguise a multitude of sins, often hiding a tarnished and ugly reality beneath.
How much of this film is true is of course debatable – a lot of it has probably been buffed up for the sake of entertainment. An inescapable truth though is that much of Raymond’s wealth came from his famous Soho strip clubs and publishing empire whose flagship publication was the less than salubrious ‘Men Only’ magazine. Despite his protestations to the contrary, he was a promoter of pornography which is squalid in anyone’s book. This seems to ring true for the film The Look of Love as well. Believably brought to life by the aforementioned star cast, and filmed in authentic Soho locations – recognisable to anyone who knows London’s West End – the film nonetheless has the same underlying air of sleaze which often tainted Raymond’s real-life dealings.
As everyone who has it knows (if they’re really honest), riches rarely bring deep contentment. Raymond may have had the trappings of wealth – the cars, houses, clothes and an entourage of beautiful women catering to his every need – but his life was also beset with tragedy and unhappiness. His wife Jean (played in the film with realistically brittle edginess by Anna Friel) eventually walked out on him, unable as she was to take any more of his wanton promiscuity which he unashamedly flaunted in her face. He hardly knew one of his sons, while his beloved daughter Debbie (a marvellous turn from Imogen Poots) spent her life constantly trying to prove herself to him before dying of a drug overdose in 1992.
After Raymond’s death Debbie’s daughters Fawn and India James inherited the bulk of his estate with, if rumours are to be believed, Fawn saying she intended to devote her time and money to charity work. However if The Look of Love does anything it’s only to enforce the old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness – though in the case of Raymond it managed to buy pretty much everything else. Modern playboys, like a certain Mr Cowell, should watch this film and take note.