Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan – the UK’s answer to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp – join forces in this biopic of Paul Raymond (Coogan); club owner, real estate developer, publisher and later recluse.
Raymond was once the richest man in Britain which, as Coogan declares often in the film, isn’t bad for ‘a lad from Liverpool with only five bob in his pocket’. Rather than closely following Raymond and how he built such an empire, Matt Greenhalgh (Control) gives us a screenplay that speeds through a number of key moments in his life (his first marriage and the opening of the private club that made his name), before dropping down a gear to focus on the relationship between Raymond and his daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots), who was to inherit his empire before overdosing in 1992.
Debbie, wishing to emulate her father, was keen to make it in London. Raymond helped where he could, taking her under his wing and making her the lead in one of his nude shows after she dropped out of school. Though he is at pains to point that she will not be nude herself; seeing it as something beneath his daughter, but perfectly fine for his partner Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton). It’s easy to judge him on these actions, but Winterbottom isn’t out to do that. Like the women in Raymond’s soft porn magazines, he’s exposing the known facts. What you make of Raymond afterwards is up to you. Whilst the father/daughter relationship is hardly portrayed as orthodox, Coogan and Poots work well and shine when they’re on screen together.
The problem with The Look of Love is that it’s incredibly patchy. Situations are seemingly ignored or brushed over. This approach worked in 24 Hour Party People; Winterbottom’s tribute to Tony Wilson and the Madchester music scene. In real life, Wilson was firm a believer in printing the legend over the truth. Wilson in the film (Coogan again) is therefore an unreliable narrator – skimming over things he doesn’t feel are relevant to the story of Factory Records. However, here it just leaves the audience wanting. For example, we’re inundated with numerous montages of drug taking and Raymond’s penchant for threesomes. However Debbie’s diagnosis with breast cancer is solved at the speed of a bullet, just in time for another montage of naked women and drugs.
Not as end-of-the-pier-cheeky as you’ve probably been led to believe, nor particularly informative, The Look of Love is still a solid biopic, but one which may have worked better as a mini-series.