A tall, striking red-headed woman steps out onto the stage, wearing nothing but a silk robe. The darkened theatre stretching out before her is deserted, empty but for one man. He is seated a few rows from the front, sharply dressed in an expensive tailored suit, his wispy tawny blond hair parted down the middle. He holds a cigar in one hand, puffing on it thoughtfully from time to time. He politely asks the woman to take off her clothes. She obliges willingly, the blue robe dropping silently to the floor. She poses for him, a coquettish look in her eye. He tells her to turn around and she obeys. Far from lustful at the sight of this beautiful naked woman in front of him, his gaze is instead shrewd and assessing – the calculating eye of a businessman who has seen it all.
Based on the book “Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond” by Paul Willetts,The Look of Love is an entertaining if fairly shallow biopic of the life of Paul Raymond(1925-2008), the profligate nudie-show entrepreneur, publisher of pornography and Soho property baron.
Although Raymond was a figure about whom scandal and intrigue clung like a musky cologne, he was a boy of fairly humble beginnings. Born as Geoffrey Anthony Quinn in Liverpool, England, his early career constituted a hodge podge of odd jobs, including a switchboard operator, a bandsman and selling illicit petrol and nylon coupons on the black market. He officially changed his name to Paul Raymond when he first tried to break into show business as a mind reader. Raymond then went on to fame and fortune by building his empire of gentlemen’s clubs, soft-core porn magazines and nude entertainment. The most famous of his clubs was the Raymond Revuebar – a private strip club and theatre through which he exploited a legal loophole to put on nude theatre. Raymond had regular clashes with the authorities throughout his career and was often the subject of salacious and ‘sexational’ newspaper headlines, “Mr. Striptease” and “King of the Peephole Shows” being some of the most popular. Raymond also had millions invested in property and real estate, the majority of which was in Soho, and at one stage held the title of the Richest Man in Britain.
Winterbottom’s adaptation is a lighthearted and benevolent portrayal of Raymond, played by award-winning British actor, Steve Coogan. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the late mogul, Coogan superbly depicts Raymond as a suave, faintly ironic businessman with impeccable manners, who is intent on making as much money as he can from exploiting the female form. Other UK talent featured in The Look of Love includes Imogen Poots as Raymond’s daughter, Debbie Raymond, Anna Friel as Raymond’s long-suffering wife, as well as appearances by Tamsin Egerton, Stephen Fry and Shirley Henderson. In addition, a small number of current Paul Raymond Publications’ employees and editors appear as extra or in pseudo-cameos.
The Look of Love does not attempt to explore the inner workings of Raymond’s mind, nor is it an in-depth look at, or critique of, the entertainment industry. And neither does it devote much to covering the public outrage and titillation his entrepreneurial pursuits provoked. Instead, the gaudy and scandalous scene of nude cabaret and pornography is relegated to being a mere backdrop – and a scantily clad one at that – against which the story of Raymond’s relationship with his only daughter Debbie takes centre stage. In the form of flashbacks to the height of Raymond’s career, viewers watch as Raymond builds his empire of smut and lives a lifestyle that ultimately causes his personal relationships to deteriorate around him.
The film proffers a rather sentimentalised view of Raymond’s seedy “world of erotica”. Despite the rampant full female nudity, the sleaziness of the industry is somehow diminished by the perfunctory and matter of fact manner in which Raymond treats his nude performers as money-making ventures. Overall, The Look of Love is quite sympathetic towards Raymond, but if Winterbottom was attempting to paint Raymond as a tragic figure, it is hard to be convinced he succeeded. The sight of Raymond as he womanises and ménage a troi’s his way through countless women is hardly guaranteed to tug the heartstrings. And ditto for the scene where Raymond and his daughter are doing lines of coke together on the coffee table.
The script is full of comedic relief delivered primarily through guffaw-inducing one-liners, but the film feels erratic in its delivery – jumping from one event of Raymond’s life to the next so quickly that the viewer is left feeling bewildered. It was almost like the film was attempting to cover a bit of everything, without tying the main story together in any meaningful way.
Overall, The Look of Love is genuinely enjoyable as a bit of lighthearted entertainment, with viewers getting the full effect of the glitz and glamour of the “sexciting” life Raymond led. Probably not one for the kids though.
The Look of Love opens nationally in Australian cinemas on 27 June 2013.
This article originally appeared on Weekendnotes, first published on 6 June 2013.