The Look Of Love

Director    Michael Winterbottom
Starring    Steve Coogan, Tamsin Egerton, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots, Chris Addison, David Walliams
Release    26 APR (UK)    Certificate 18
3 stars

Ed Williamson

22nd April 2013

Any mainstream film purporting to be about porn should have actual porn in it, for my money. And if there's one thing my 14-year-old self learned the hard way by staying up to watch inevitably tepid erotic thrillers on Channel 5, it's that they never really do. But I think the idealist in him would be disappointed to see me greet The Look Of Love with the shrug it induced. Here, let's ask him. So, 14-year-old me, what do you— Hey! Stop doing that! This is a public place!

Once he'd cleaned himself up, 14-year-old me would probably be surprised to learn that the sports reporter on The Day Today ("That was liquid football!") was still around, and a firmly established character whose sayings were now part of the national vocabulary. And equally surprised that the actor so well known for playing him was so capable of leaving him behind when need be.

For there is no discernible Partridge in Steve Coogan's performance as Paul Raymond, and that's a great compliment to him as an actor. He's a rare character comedian who can sink into other roles, even largely dramatic ones like this, without reminding you through voice or mannerism of the characters for which he's best known.

Would you like me to lap dance for you? Uh-uh. I want a second series.

The Look Of Love makes good use of him, too, but ultimately is a largely by-numbers biopic, presenting the events of Raymond's life but offering only in glimpses any reason to care about them. It's presented in a familiar structure: the once-powerful mogul now old and worn out, reflecting sadly on his glory days in flashback. Raymond, who ran Soho strip clubs from the late 1950s onwards and founded magazines like Men Only and Mayfair, prospered despite various clashes with the establishment, whose hypocrisy is prodded here by David Walliams' pervy vicar, constantly turning up at the clubs just to 'keep an eye on his flock'.

It has an obvious parallel in The People vs Larry Flynt, but whereas Milos Forman's film had something to say about free speech and how even pioneering figures can be their own worst enemies at a personal level, The Look Of Love doesn't, particularly. You presume you're going to see Shakespearean overtones - a great man brought low by his own avarice - but, if that's what it is attempting, it doesn't convince. One problem is the film's stance on pornography, which it refuses to judge one way or the other. This is laudable and refreshing in itself, but Raymond's castle is built on porn, and so you expect the film to link his lust to his downfall, if only to provide some sense of cause and effect. Again, it doesn't; it just sort of ... shows you the things that happened.

This shouldn't diminish what is an essentially enjoyable experience, though. There is plenty to like here, not least the tits performances of the principal cast: Anna Friel is as good an actress as you'll find anywhere, and Tamsin Egerton, playing Fiona Richmond, brings a lot of depth to a role that could've been one-dimensional in the wrong hands. Imogen Poots convinces too as Raymond's daughter, falling deeper into a world of vice from which you feel he should be trying harder to protect her. And there is, of course, plenty of nudity – though few actual sex scenes (certainly not enough to justify an 18 certificate, if you ask me) – with which longtime Coogan collaborator Michael Winterbottom deals without prurient lingering.

But all of this fails to answer the essential question: what The Look Of Love actually is. Though far from boring, it simply presents the events of a man's remarkable life chronologically without much attempt at examining him or his motivations. You could get a similar effect by reading his Wikipedia page with an open copy of Razzle by your side. And just to prove the point, that's exactly what I'm doing right now.

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