The Look of Love tells the real life story of notorious British porn baron Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), who through his dubious business practices and property ownership became known as “The King of Soho.” It explores, among other things, the relationship between Raymond and his wife and children, particularly his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) whom he gave the most attention to.
Director Michael Winterbottom reunites with chameleon-like comedic performer Coogan after such collaborations as 24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story and most recently the TV series-turned condensed movie The Trip. There’s a certain spark that occurs when they collaborate and The Look of Love is no different. Although a bit too scattershot to be a definitive full stop of a biopic, the film is nonetheless a brisk and entertaining look at a singular, troubled and troublesome life.
Coogan is tremendous as Raymond. Done up to look as much like the real man without resorting to unneeded prosthetics (though a distinct moustache and hairdo doesn’t go amiss), Coogan once again employs his talent for disappearing into the role at hand. At first glance it seems an extension of his Tony Ferrino character but it’s actually a lot more subtle and involving than that. He may be playing an outlandish man but there’s a strange believability to the performance that wouldn’t be there in a less skilled actor.
There’s fine supporting turns from the likes of Poots as Raymond’s ambitious yet uneasy daughter Debbie, Anna Friel as his estranged wife Jean and a comical Chris Addison as a man instrumental in helping Raymond expand his business. But it’s Coogan who really shines, making the film more than it otherwise might have been.
Where The Look of Love surprises most is just how moving and emotional it can sometimes be. On the surface it’s a shallow film about a shallow business empire but through Paul’s surprisingly caring relationship with his daughter – a health scare scene is particularly affecting – it manages to delve a little deeper and make you care more than you might expect.
It’s certainly no 24 Hour Party People (what is?) but The Look of Love is another fun look at a particular period of British history. It may not be entirely substantial but it’s a fun and engaging watch thanks to Winterbottom’s keen eye for a sense of time and place and a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh (Control) that at least attempts to leave no stone unturned.