A few weeks ago I navigated the urban maze of Soho in London to reach the Soho Screening Rooms and watch The Look of Love. The film opens on Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) driving in a car with his granddaughter through the urban maze of Soho in London. As they drive Raymond points out the various properties he owns and explains that he bought them all for his daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots), who has recently died from a drug overdose. Raymond then sits down to watch an old interview featuring his daughter and himself as we flashback to the start of his career…
Paul Raymond was once Britain’s richest man, his money coming from the aforementioned properties and a lucrative history in strip clubs, sex comedies, and what some would call pornographic magazines. In The Look of Love we follow Raymond’s career as he profits from displays of flesh in numerous forms, end his adulterous marriage with Jean Raymond (Anna Friel) and takes up with showgirl Amber (Tamsin Egerton) to indulge in a life of sex, drugs, and an apartment designed by Ringo Starr.
The Look of Love has been blessed with an amazing cast largely filled with comic actors in not so comic roles. Steve Coogan nearly completely banishes Alan Partridge from your mind as he is transformed into a blonde Lothario and Chris Addison’s performance as the drug happy editor Tony Power is worth the ticket price alone. Other smaller roles are filled by the likes of Miles Jupp, Sarah Solemani, David Walliams, Simon Bird, Matt Lucas, and Stephen Fry. Heck we even get the marvellous James Lance who is never in enough films. Tamsin Egerton makes the most of her first proper leading role and is more ballsy than brave as she plays the character most often seen unclothed and with the most depth.
Director Michael Winterbottom is not one to shy away from onscreen nudity and sure enough we are presented with a plethora of scantily clad young women on stage, in swimming pools, and cavorting in Raymond’s bedroom which features sun lamps and a retractable roof. The nudity is not presented in an overly exploitative manner but is simply present in as great a quantity as it was in Raymond’s real life. For a film filled with sex and nudity there isn’t too much to titillate here for better or worse. With some exceptions perhaps…
That said there isn’t a huge deal of depth to be found either. Events from Raymond’s life are paraded in front of us with unquestionably fine acting and direction but somehow the essence of the man escapes us. The film is solidly made; if you kick it, it won’t fall down, but look inside and it is mostly empty. By the end of the film I knew a lot about what Raymond had done but had no insight into why he had done it. Why did he love Amber above all the other women who passed through his bed? Why did he love his daughter so much yet dismiss his sons? Why did Jean put up with his philandering? The Look of Love is an enjoyable film and provides the winning combination of a perfect cast and all that nudity but it doesn’t uncover anything revealing about Paul Raymond as a character.
For a film about a man who pushed the boundaries in his time there are surprisingly few boundaries pushed onscreen. And this is from the director that brought graphic sex to the multiplex. There were moments where I could feel Winterbottom censoring himself as he shied away from fully exploiting the world of Paul Raymond. The last thing this film needed was tasteful nudity. While it is ostensibly a good thing to not exploit sex and nudity this is a film about “The King of Soho” at the end of the day and I only needed to walk for 2 minutes from the screening room to see the neon clad impact of his life, something the film failed to capture.
A film worth seeing but probably just the once, The Look of Love is in UK cinemas on 26th April 2013.