The Look of Love
dir Michael Winterbottom
scr Matt Greenhalgh; prd Melissa Parmenter
with Steve Coogan, Imogen Poots, Anna Friel, Tamsin Egerton, Chris Addison, David Walliams, James Lance, Matthew Beard, Sarah Solemani, Peter Wight, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas
release US Jan.13 sff, UK 26.Apr.13
13/UK StudioCanal 1h41
The Look of Love
Let's put on a show: Coogan and Egerton

poots friel walliams
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Look of Love This fascinating story is told with vivid style, a terrific use of actual settings and a strong cast. But the characters never quite get under our skin, so our interest in the history of one of London's more colourful districts is never deepened by personal resonance or larger meaning.

By the early 1960s, Paul Raymond (Coogan) owned large swathes of Soho, a lively collection of theatres, bars and restaurants, plus brothels, strip clubs and drug dens. It was Raymond's own strip club that built his fortune, which expanded into publishing men's magazines. Along the way, his marriage to Jean (Friel) was strained by his womanising, including a long-term relationship with model-actress Fiona Richmond (Egerton). But the real woman in his life was his daughter Debbie (Poots), and he was preparing her to inherit his empire when she died of a heroin overdose in 1992.

Winterbottom gleefully recreates swinging-60s London and its dazzling clothes, furniture and wallpaper. Exteriors are shot on location, dressing present-day Soho to resemble the mid-60s to the early 90s. All of this cleverly suggests that Raymond never moved on from those groovy early years, trying to maintain the garish excess even as his personal life collapsed. By contrast, his business never wavered; he was still called King of Soho when he died in 2008, leaving a £1 billion empire to his grandchildren.

The film focuses on Raymond's relationship with his daughter, which isn't always involving since both are so self-obsessed. Coogan bravely plays Raymond as an ambitious man who ignores everyone around him, so we're not surprised when he ends up alone in his fabulous penthouse flat. Poots draws on Debbie's inability to see her true talents, flailing at a singing career before an ugly spiral of drug use. So Friel and Egerton are the most engaging people on screen, mainly because the actresses add spark to passive characters.

A lively parade of starry cameos and deranged side characters add texture, and Greenhalgh's script is full of spiky dialog. But Winterbottom is so intent on recreating Raymond's misogynistic world that even he treats women as mere objects of desire. Watching this film makes us feel strangely leery, as the naked female bodies become yet another lurid backdrop. Although perhaps this is a key point about Raymond's life.

cert 18 themes, language, nudity, drugs 5.Mar.13

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