FILM REVIEW: The Look of Love (18)

Headline-grabbing publisher and club owner Paul Raymond had a simple business philosophy: give the public, or more specifically men, what they want.

Pandering to carnal desires never did any harm to Raymond’s bank balance: in 1992, he was anointed Britain’s richest man with an estimated personal fortune of £1.5 billion.

That same year, his beloved daughter Debbie died of a heroin overdose aged 36, and her showman father became a recluse.

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Michael Winterbottom’s affectionate biopic of the mogul reunites the Blackburn-born director with actor Steve Coogan after their critically acclaimed collaborations 24 Hour Party People, A Cock And Bull Story and The Trip.

The Look Of Love beautifully evokes the changing fashions and moods of each decade, from the titillation and rigorous censorship of the 1950s and 1960s to the lurid, drug-saturated debauchery of the 1970s and discofied 1980s.

The soundtrack strums and shimmies in perfect unison, running the gamut of Burt Bacharach, Donovan, Hot Chocolate, Soft Cell and T-Rex.

Winterbottom’s film employs the shaky framing device of Raymond (Coogan) looking back over his life in the immediate aftermath of his daughter’s death.

In the 1950s, he lays the foundations of his colossal business empire with a touring show of nude models, supported by his long-suffering choreographer wife, Jean (Anna Friel).

He expands with Raymond’s Revue Bar and swaggers into mainstream entertainment with the sex comedy Pyjama Tops at the Whitehall Theatre, which is mauled by critics.

Raymond gleefully appropriates their barbs for the marketing.

“Trust me, we have a hit!” he whoops.

Sure enough, the show runs for five years and Raymond jeopardises his marriage to conduct an affair with actress Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton).

Jean secures the largest divorce settlement in British history and walks away with her son Howard (Matthew Beard), while Raymond courts more controversy in the lucrative adult magazine market, assisted by editor Tony Power (Chris Addison).

Attention-seeking daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) is sucked into her father’s orbit.

Alas, his vast fortune cannot buy her happiness and she crashes and burns in the media eye.

The Look Of Love oozes visual excess and Poots and Friel light up the colour-saturated screen.

However, Coogan seems to be channelling Alan Partridge in his portrayal, which lessens the emotional wallop of closing scenes with Debbie.

Matt Greenhalgh’s script is peppered with zinging one-liners, such as when a newly bouffant Jean fishes for compliments from her husband and asks: “Do you like my hair?”

Paul responds dryly: “It has a Myra Hindley effect.”

Quips aside, there’s a disappointing lack of depth to the characters.

Like some of the shows Raymond produced, the film caters magnificently to the eye but short-changes the brain, and the ringmaster of this circus remains - infuriatingly - an emotionally cold enigma throughout.


Released: April 26 (UK & Ireland), 101 mins