Whilst watching “The Look Of Love,” it’s hard not to think that it would be better suited for a Sunday night on BBC Four than a Friday night at your local cinema. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it; it’s solidly made by people who know how the game is played, and has moments of humour that help bring out it’s own unique charm. But for those looking for a character study of what has to be a fascinating person, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.
We learn everything we need to know about Paul Raymond, an unconventional entrepreneur with an excess of character, who found success with his nude circus acts and strip joints. He later went on to create Men Only, one of the most profitable erotic magazines ever. We learn about his relationships with the people around him, of course mainly the women. And yet, the big discovery this film unearths is one you realise you never really thought about before. “The Look Of Love” shows us that British erotica really is breathtakingly unerotic. The Americans are able to add glitz and glamour and a smoothness to their porn. The Europeans add a slinky, sensuous exoticism. And then we have the British, who can’t seem to elevate themselves over tacky and miserable.
That certainly didn’t stop Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan). The film starts with him as a middle aged man, looking back on his life after a tragic event inspires him to reminisce. He thinks about his rise in fame and wealth, his struggles with his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his affair with the attractive Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton), the relationship with his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), and as you’d expect, how his party lifestyle ultimately costs him everything. He doesn’t lose anything of material value though. As the end credits point out, Raymond was named Britain’s richest man in 1992.
Steve Coogan’s Paul Raymond is an unaggressive, charming man. He has strong convictions, is clearly very self confident, but ultimately avoids confrontation. He has absolutely no trouble chatting up young women to join him and Fiona in their bed, but looks distinctly uncomfortable when his daughter Debbie cries during a public confrontation with him. Steve Coogan himself is very well restrained, only adding delicate touches of humour at points that seem like perfect opportunities to go all Alan Partridge.
Most elements of Paul Raymond’s character are quite accurate, apart from the charm. That is a Steve Coogan addition. In real life, Raymond often came across as a rather cold man. This is the point where the film starts to lose its way. Instead of going in for a proper study of the man, for the most part it is very affectionate, at times uncomfortably so. There is a limit to how appealing a character who exploited women on a daily basis should be.
It’s quite admirable then, that Anna Friel and Tamsin Egerton are able to put in such impressive performances in a film and a world that is so male orientated. Both of them exude a uniqueness that deserves a bit more exploration, but ultimately they are forced to revolve around Paul Raymond’s orbit. Friel and Egerton do a great job though creating strong women who are forced to put up with too much of Raymond for far too long.
As you’d expect in a film like this, both Anna Friel and Tamsin Egerton appear nude, the latter several times. It’s doubtful the film goes more than five minutes without a smattering of female nudity, but it’s not done in a way that’s supposed to shock. Considering this is a film directed by Michael Winterbottom, who certainly has a reputation for embracing explicit images, that is a little bit of a surprise. Plot-wise, he keeps everything very straightforward in an unadventurous rise and fall story. He’s aware that the nudity is tasteless and tacky, and allows the film to revel in it.
Even though the central story is supposed to revolve around Raymond’s relationship with his daughter Debbie, the issues of that relationship are skimmed over. Whenever it looks like we might be about to penetrate the surface of Paul Raymond, the story shifts back to his relationships – mainly sexual ones – with women. When Raymond is asked by the press if Debbie will be appearing nude in one of his shows, and he replies that she absolutely will not, all we get is a frown from Fiona to highlight his hypocrisy. In another interview he’s asked if his erotic publications are degrading to women. He simply says “no,” the press laugh, and it’s never spoken of again. “The Look Of Love” is ultimately a solid and straightforward film that has strong performances from the likes of Steve Coogan, but after a while, rather like the erotica on constant display, it all starts to grate.
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