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Steve Coogan and Michael Winterbottom reunite for a biopic of "King of Soho" Paul Raymond that deftly juggles the serious, the seedy, and the spectre of Partridge

In The Look of Love, Steve Coogan's latest assignment is Paul Raymond, the Liverpool-born "King of Soho" whose great wealth and success were mirrored by personal tragedy. This is meaty material and Coogan carries the movie with aplomb, although Matt Greenhalgh's script dilutes what could have been a more deeply satisfying drama into something that feels episodic.

The movie charts Raymond's journey from the early years as a mind-reading variety act to his rise in London to become the adult entertainment impresario and publishing mogul who brought nudity into the mainstream. In 1992 he was called Britain's richest man; one month after the drug overdose that killed his beloved daughter Debbie.

There is much to tell in Raymond's story and Winterbottom and Greenhalgh offer a brisk summation of the man's steady march up the ranks. They skim over the lawsuits that sparked inevitably from the nature of Raymond's business. They also choose not to show the ruthless business side of his personality, so that apart from the melancholy years following his daughter's demise, Raymond comes across mostly as a benign presence who is great fun at parties and loves the ladies.

Coogan does well to steer clear of parody and understands that behind the hedonism lies a man who is always in control. Coogan is a talented actor and has perhaps no greater champion than Michael Winterbottom. This is their fourth collaboration after 24 Hour Party People, A Cock & Bull Story and The Trip and it shows in an authoritative performance that is rooted in a trusting partnership.

Imogen Poots is feisty and assured as Raymond's doomed offspring Debbie, who enlists her flamboyant father's help in an ill-fated career as a singer. Raymond, it seems, adored strong women and those who got close to him are portrayed as such. Anna Friel plays his wife Jean, who ultimately secures a record divorce settlement, while Tamsin Egerton is ravishing but no fool as the glamour model girlfriend Fiona Richmond, an entrepreneurial spirit herself who also moves on when the womanising gets too much.

Occasionally there is a tinge of Alan Partridge in Raymond, and I won't put it any stronger than that. It must be a nightmare being a comedy genius. You create one of the greatest TV characters to come along in decades only to find that if you're not careful he will bleed into your work, like a vividly coloured scarf thrown into the laundry with the whites.

The Partridgisms in The Look of Love crop up here and there in the form of pedantic wordplay. In one instance Raymond issues a needlessly long set of instructions to revue dancers sprayed with gold that recalls the more surreal flights of fancy of Norfolk's premier late night broadcaster.

But this is nitpicking. UK audiences will find plenty to savour when the movie opens on 8 March through StudioCanal, who co-financed the movie with Film4. What the Americans will make of this very British story is another matter.

Rating: 3/5

Jeremy Kay

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source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/jan/20/sundance-review-look-of-love


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