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Film review: THE LOOK OF LOVE, from Built For Speed

The Look of Love, the latest film for British director Michael Winterbottom, is not a biopic of Burt Bacharach or Dusty Springfield although the spirit of romantic 60’s cool they epitomised infuses this film.  The Look of Love is like a British answer to The People vs. Larry Flynt as it depicts the career and personal travails of porn king and one time richest man in Britain, Paul Raymond.

The film traces Raymond’s (Steve Coogan) life from Soho strip club owner in the late 50’s to porn impresario and owner of flesh mag Men Only in the 60’s and beyond.  As the cash rolls in, Raymond transforms from a working class Liverpudlian lad made good to a filthy-rich, business-savvy but emotionally naïve man.   Amid his startling success and wild sexploits – which included five-somes with much younger women – he was embroiled in fractious relationships with three women: his wife Jean (Anna Friel), mistress Amber aka Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton) and daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) who helped run his porn empire.

In trying to cover nearly 40 years of Raymond’s life – much of which is seen through a cocaine haze – this film has trouble retaining its focus.  It’s a roller coaster ride through the decades with Raymond’s life often portrayed through frenzied montages.  It often feels as if we’re watching a much longer film that has been judiciously cut down to feature length, something suggested by the annoyingly brief appearances from British comic royalty Stephen Fry, David Walliams and Matt Lucas.

Amid the chaos it’s often only hit songs of the era that provide a reference point in time. Oddly and disappointingly, one of those hits isn’t Dusty Springfield’s brilliant version of The Look of Love.  Fortunately, though, the soundtrack does include some terrific tracks like T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy.

As Raymond, Coogan evokes memories of his amusing performance as Factory Records Svengali Tony Wilson from 24 hour Party People. Despite Raymond’s drug taking, indifference to others’ feelings and apparent lack of concern at exploiting women, Coogan somehow makes him a sympathetic and likeable figure.  He convincingly portrays him as an eccentric and slightly deluded party boy who, above all else, loved his daughter.  The film often revels in Raymond’s drug-fuelled lifestyle and rather than condemning him, celebrates his place in “cool-Britannia” during the 60’s and 70’s when London was the centre of the pop-cultural zeitgeist. The film appears to present a rose-coloured view of his world, however, as there’s no suggestion of organised crime being involved despite the porn and the drugs.

Following her impressive portrayal of a love-struck music student in A Late Quartet, Imogen Poots delivers another excellent performance as troubled daughter Debbie.  Poots somehow makes the selfish, tempestuous Debbie both contemptible and sympathetic.

With its choppy editing and sudden leaps through time, The Look of Love isn’t an entirely satisfying film but it does provide an amusing and often poignant insight into the remarkable and controversial man that was Paul Raymond.

Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Michael Winterbottom.

Release date: 27th June 2013.

Running time: 101 mins.

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