3 May 2013


It's tough to think of a British film that's received a wide release in cinemas this year, which hasn't seemed more suited to a prime-time slot on telly than a big screen. When I say a film is a bit ITV, I guess it's a compliment to ITV, whose two-part dramas are evidently up to a high standard of production, even if it's not a standard that feels at home in the multiplex.

The Look of Love feels more like the kind of star-led drama you'd catch on BBC Two, and that's surprising from a director like Michael Winterbottom. It's a film about the life and times of Paul Raymond, the business baron who "came from Liverpool with five bob in his pocket" (as he keeps reminding everyone here) and, by building a soft porn empire in Soho, became Britain's richest man. More than that, it's about his relationship with Debbie, his daughter and heir apparent, and how it all came to a tragic end.

I didn't know anything about Paul Raymond going in, so I don't want to get into specific "spoilers" for the film, but I will say that I didn't feel like this gave an entirely rounded depiction of its subject. It's confusing that Raymond's family have objected to the film, even swiping the film's original title, The King of Soho, for their own biopic, which will star Tom Hiddleston. This one doesn't exactly make a strong moral or historical case to disparage the man who made their fortunes, instead playing as much more affectionate and sympathetic.

Steve Coogan isn't doing anything revelatory in his performance, but he still gives a very likeable and watchable turn. Reading about Raymond in the wake of having seen the film, it's tough to recognise a man who notoriously stammered, when Coogan is given over to quoting Oscar Wilde and doing impressions of Sean Connery and Marlon Brando. It's almost like an idea of Coogan's likeability and charisma is projected onto Paul Raymond, to approximate his appeal instead of trying to replicate it.

The real highlight is Imogen Poots, who is really astonishing as Debbie Raymond. She's something of a tragic figure in the mythic biopic sense of things, and she plays this incredible potential and vibrancy with so much sadness behind it. Her dad dotes on her, to the point of ignoring her brother, but even when she's so eagerly allowing herself to be groomed to take over the Raymond empire, there's always the sense that she's too fragile to handle it. When the Raymonds took back The King of Soho as a title, it's telling that the filmmakers chose to name the film after the Dusty Springfield song that Poots warbles through in the film- The Look of Love may well be more her story than Paul's.

Still, it's Paul that we follow, as he dumps his first wife and their family for a leggy, stunning Tamsin Egerton, and otherwise watches as the nature of his business goes from being morally reprehensible to the likes of the Lord Chamberlain, to being considered soft as compared to the culture of excess, drugs and cosmetic enhancement that rises up all around, and even within his empire. The film is taken through the decades by some stellar work from the hair, make-up and costume departments, but even in covering all this time, the ending still feels kind of rushed. 

That's never more apparent than in the placement of one particularly important Paul and Debbie scene, suddenly and discordantly played for high melodrama, that takes place too close to the end for the film to show any consequences. Maybe that lends to the televisual feel of things, along with a barrage of cameos from TV comedy stars. Your spotter's guide should include Stephen Fry, Dara O'Briain, David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Miles Jupp, and my personal favourite, The Inbetweeners' Simon Bird, who rocks a devastating 1980s mullet-moustache combo. Once again, kudos to the hair and make-up team.

Alas, it would take more than the look of The Look of Love to make it feel truly cinematic. The recurring problem in biopics is that they're too willing to treat a subject affectionately and let the audience bring their own moral standpoint. While the film is still very entertaining, it comes at the expense of any real insight. Steve Coogan is always worth watching, and the staggering turn by Imogen Poots is what elevates this above even more flimsy biopics, but it's still another one that's worth waiting to see on TV, unless the imminent onslaught of summer blockbusters leaves you cold.

The Look of Love is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide. 
If you've seen The Look of Love, why not share your comments below? Yes, there are lots of boobies in this one. I can't say I was counting them though, so I didn't mention it...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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