Michael Winterbottom is, without doubt, one of the most interesting contemporary filmmakers, having crafted great films such as Welcome to Sarajevo, A Mighty Heart, Genova and The Killer Inside Me. Love him or hate him, it cannot be denied that he has always been willing to push the envelope in the themes and stylistic approaches that he explores in his films. From documentaries such as The Road to Guantanamo to the real life sex of 9 Songs, the prolific Winterbottom has courted controversy but consistently refused to compromise his artistic vision.
In his latest celluloid offering The Look of Love, Winterbottom explores the life of Paul Raymond, a theatre and soft core porn impresario once regarded as Britain’s richest man. Working again with Steve Coogan, who has previously appeared for Winterbottom in the likes of 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and The Trip, Winterbottom explores Raymond’s rise to prominence in the 1960’s and 1970’s and his relationships with the various women in his life. Given that an extended television mini-series would be needed to explore Raymond’s life in intricate detail, Winterbottom does a good job in exploring the various complexities of Raymond’s personality and lifestyle. Coogan is very effective as a man whose life of wealth and sucess is tinged with tragedy.
Given the nature of Raymond’s business enterprises and decadent lifestyle, there are boobs and pubes galore in the film, but there is nothing that could be considered gratuitous. In fact, Winterbottom has shown great restraint in this regard. The central focus of the film is Raymond’s relationships with the three key women in his life, namely his wife Jean (Anna Friel), girlfriend Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton) and his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots). With unfettered access to an endless array of young women, it is Raymond’s inability to remain faithful that ultimately ends his relationships with both Jean and the beautiful Fiona. However, the relationship between Paul and Debbie is one of mutual, unconditional love that endures through the triumphs and tragedies of Debbie’s life, many of which are facilitated by her father. The opening scene of the movie alerts viewers to Debbie’s fate, so there should be no surprises in this regard even for those unfamiliar with the real-life story.
While Friel, Egerton and Poots are great as the women who play such a prominent role in Raymond’s life, sons Howard (Matthew Beard) and Derry (Liam Doyle) only make fleeting appearances in the narrative. Yes, Raymond was a philanderer who, some will no doubt argue, accumulated much of his wealth through exploiting women, but if the portrayal presented by Winterbottom and Coogan is in any way accurate, it is hard not to like the guy. Ultimately, The Look of Love is effective in capturing a particular period in British history through the story of a man who saw and seized the opportunities presented by the changing social and political climate of the time. With brief cameos from Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas, there is plenty to like in this film although, like many of Winterbottom’s films, it will no doubt leave audiences divided.