24 Hour Porno People – ★★★½
Michael Winterbottom’s latest film in a ridiculously diverse filmography is a biopic of the porn baron Paul Raymond, telling the story of his life in London over a forty-year period from the 1950s until the early 90s.
Leading the line as Raymond is Steve Coogan with his first wife Jean being portrayed by Anna Friel. Winterbottom, Coogan and Friel are all from the North of England and you feel their efforts lend the Raymonds’ early years an authenticity as they, as outsiders, slowly take over London’s live entertainment scene. But with the breakdown of their marriage, Paul anoints their daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) as heir to the throne. As the years go on, the greed, disillusionment and volume of snorted cocaine increases and cracks start to show in the Raymond empire. Add in the intricacies of Raymond’s relationship with Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton), his girlfriend throughout the latter part of the 60s and 70s, and you’ve got a whole lot of plot to pack in.
Coogan is superbly watchable and in portraying Raymond, chooses to embrace the cheesy “Partridgisms” we know him for, while also recalling his work in 24 Hour Party People – also directed by Winterbottom. Coogan’s been given pretty short shrift when he’s worked in Hollywood (stuff like Hamlet 2 and Night at the Museum come to mind) and he really is at his best when he’s working with the UK film system with directors who know how to get the best out of him.Of the three women in Paul Raymond’s life, Imogen Poots as his daughter is the most memorable. Poots has a big slate of releases due out this year and by following the Fassbender/Chastain rulebook of omnipresence is likely to emerge as one of the year’s break-out stars. She does her best to bring the necessary amount of sympathy to a tragic, annoying character whose rise and fall forms the central plot point of the film.
Mention should go to the ridiculous set of cameos that Winterbottom has put into the film – Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Shirley Henderson and Stephen Fry all pop up at various points, though with the exception of Walliams’ outgoing vicar, none of them really add a whole lot to the story.
While you can fault Matt Greenhalgh’s script for trying to cover too large a period, Winterbottom and his cinematographer Hubert Taczanowski have to be credited for doing a great job at showing the passage in time in London’s seedier streets and salubrious suburbs. Sure they deploy old tricks like using black and white for the early scenes before going full-on technicolor as the 60s start rolling, but when added to the sets and tacky dated furniture that a millionaire would have owned back then, you get a great sense of a time and place.
The film probably doesn’t shed as much light on the softcore porn publishing world that many people would have expected. Raymond made most of his money from property in Soho, but made his name for providing, eh, “racey” entertainment to people – evolving from harmless strip shows to printing magazines and eventually releasing video pornography. The best we see of this are some all too brief (and hilarious) scenes of Raymond speaking with UK censors about just what is allowed to be shown and suggested in his photoshoots. But this is a dramatic biopic with a main goal of telling the life story of a millionaire and the relationships he had with three women.
All in all, The Look of Love is a fun film that isn’t really as good as the sum of its parts suggested it should be. It’s perfectly enjoyable, but is hardly going to be feature on any end of year lists or linger long in the memory in the way the film it most closely resembles, 24 Hour Party People, does. It’s the kind of thing that cries out to be watched on Film4 on a Sunday night with a takeaway, and not something essential that we could really recommend you run down to the cinema to catch right away.
UK / Directed By: Michael Winterbottom / Written By: Matt Greenhalgh / Starring: Steve Coogan, Imogen Poots, Anna Friel, Tamsin Egerton / 98min / Drama / Release: 26 April 2013 (Ireland, UK)