Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) was a self made man who created a fortune out of both his pornography empire and his property business, making him eventually the richest man in Britain, but as the old cliché goes, all that money could not buy him happiness and it could not bring his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) back to life. She had died of a drugs overdose shortly after giving birth to her second child, and this hit Raymond extremely hard, as can be imagined, but now, drawing into reclusiveness, he thinks back on his life and what brought him to such incredible highs and hellish lows...
Director Michael Winterbottom and star Steve Coogan had teamed up for a biopic of sorts before in 24 Hour Party People, with the actor finding the persona of television and music impresario Tony Wilson fitting him like a glove. Yet on watching the pair's collaboration to reimagine the career and personal life of the self-styled King of Soho, you could look back on that earlier movie and see its success was because they were able to turn Wilson into one of Coogan's comedy characters, and the attempt to do the same with Raymond didn't suit the material at all. The millionaire had, after all, often appeared on television so it was not as if nobody knew what he was like.
And he was really very little like Coogan's impersonation of him, except it wasn't an impersonation, it was the star's patented suburban take on the foibles of Middle England crowbarred into an existence which was not best served by such an interpretation. We were, according to this, supposed to be laughing at Raymond and his impertinence for climbing the ladder of success from low rent end of the pier showman to the huge financial behemoth he became, and that was down to one reason: he made his fortune from sex. He supplied naked women in his clubs and on the pages of his magazines to those whose wives and girlfriends, assuming they had them, would not be able to have access to otherwise.
In this manner The Look of Love was very British in its take on sex, in that it was either considered absolutely hilarious or utterly miserable, so this film had the best of both worlds by combining the two: if it was hilarious right now, then rest assured it would be bloody miserable eventually. Naturally, this went hand in hand with the idea that any attempt at sophistication was inevitably ruined by the introduction of carnality to the mix. This was echoed in the pattern of the movie which dropped in on its subject's life to dramatise key moments, from his beginnings with his wife Jean (Anna Friel) as they forged ahead with their idea of staging revues featuring female nudity, to Paul's tries at getting a showbiz career for Debbie off the ground and failing miserably because she had no talent other than persuading her father to lavish cash on her, to establishing his porn baron status.
If Coogan was having trouble finding the truth of Raymond and resorting to caricature, then Poots bettered him with a far more authentic performance, making Debbie a person you could feel truly sorry for even as it seemed horribly inevitable that she would end her days like she did; everyone else appeared to be uncertain if they should be funny acting alongside this star, and Winterbottom backed him up with many supporting roles for comedians familiar from British television, again suggesting a poor approach to the material. Not that it should have been completely humourless, it's just that the humour they found wasn't particularly amusing, applying sitcom quips to situations that felt increasingly tone deaf as they went on. Tamsin Egerton offered a not bad Fiona Richmond, Chris Addison was boyishly sleazy under that beard as Raymond's print associate, and David Walliams had fun as the resident vicar, but the problem remained that this was endeavouring to make saucy frolics out of something rather sad and tawdry. Music by Antony Genn and Martin Slattery.