out of Five
Running time: 101
Michael Winterbottom's Paul Raymond biopic is impeccably designed and sharply written with a superb cast and a terrific central performance from Steve Coogan, though it's not quite the comedy romp it appears to be and instead paints a profoundly sad portrait of a fascinating Soho figure.
What's it all about?
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, The Look of Love is a biopic of Soho entrepreneur Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), who built an empire out of strip clubs and men's magazines and channelled his profits into buying up huge swathes of central London property, earning him the self-styled title ‘The King of Soho’. The film opens in 1992, with a distraught Raymond having just buried his beloved daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) and watching a TV programme where they were both interviewed, causing him to look back on his life.
Flashbacks then zip through Raymond's life and career, beginning with his marriage to model Jean (Anna Friel), the launch of his iconic London strip club Raymond's Revue Bar, his move into publishing men's magazines (including Men Only, Mayfair and Escort), his penchant for buying property and his second marriage to leading lady Amber St George (Tamsin Egerton), who he renames Fiona Richmond, building her a career as a model and reporter. At the same time, Raymond tries to help Debbie become a singer, but her failed career drives her into a spiral of drug addiction.
Reteaming with Winterbottom for a fourth time, Steve Coogan delivers a terrific performance as Raymond, sparking intriguingly layered chemistry with each of his three leading ladies and injecting just a hint of Partridge, both in the insecurity-fuelled bravado and the delivery of jokes that no-one laughs at. The supporting cast are equally great, particularly Friel (on fine sparky form) and Egerton (who is frankly sensational and should hopefully receive a deserved career boost after this), while Poots is genuinely moving as doomed Debbie.
The bittersweet, cleverly written script is excellent, strongly conveying the intoxication of Raymond's success, but constantly allowing us to see the emptiness underneath, most notably in an inspired montage where Paul and Fiona's hedonistic, coke-and-threesomes-every-night lifestyle gradually loses its appeal.
This scene is actually indicative of the film as a whole, in that although on the surface it's a comedy sex romp, it's actually both profoundly sad and genuinely moving.
The film looks gorgeous throughout, thanks to Hubert Taczanowski's colourful and evocative cinematography, aided by some terrific production design work which makes strong use of a number of authentic Soho locations. There's also a superb soundtrack and Winterbottom adds valuable context to the story through repeated use of real-life news reports and tabloid headlines, while the lovingly recreated Men Only shoots with Friel and Egerton should ensure the film receives a healthy afterlife on DVD.
Winterbottom and Coogan's fourth collaboration, The Look of Love is an entertaining and ultimately powerfully emotional biopic with a strong script and terrific performances from a superb cast. Highly recommended.