Vague look at love, stripping and Soho
Film Review: The look of love (18, general release, 101 minutes) *** Director: Michael Winterbottom Stars: Steve Coogan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots, Tamsin Egerton
Anyone who lived in London in the 1970s or 1980s will recall a rather seedy landmark that formed the gateway to sinful Soho. The Raymond Revue Bar was established in 1958 by a Liverpool-born entrepreneur called Paul Raymond, who considered himself an impresario rather than a porn merchant, and brought an undeniable touch of showbiz magic to the murky world of peep shows.
Raymond's girls performed elaborate dance numbers rather than mere striptease, and the club's flamboyant owner created an air of mystique and glamour that made the Revue Bar fashionable for a time.
Raymond became a property tycoon, and also branched out into soft porn publishing, and made a fortune flogging magazines like Men Only, Escort and Mayfair. He became one of the wealthiest men in Britain, but as this handsome but rather sombre biopic demonstrates, money isn't everything.
Steve Coogan plays Raymond, a brilliant businessman who invented an alternate identity that was so convincing he eventually fell for it himself.
His real name was Geoffrey Quinn: he was abandoned by his father at the age of five, and educated by Irish Christian Brothers – an experience that would put anyone off God.
In the 1950s he began touring England with a show involving nude women who posed as statues, the Lord Chamberlain's Office having decreed that naked ladies must not move on stage.
When Raymond set up Britain's first strip club in 1958, he made the Revue Bar a club in order to circumvent this law.
Anna Friel plays Raymond's brassy wife Debbie, a business partner and mother who turns a blind eye to his philandering and is devastated when he leaves her for a younger, blonder model.
But according to this film, nothing much seemed to give Raymond joy, and his feckless narcissism took its hardest toll on his fragile daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots).
Michael Winterbottom's film captures the 1960s and '70s pretty well, and makes stripping look like a much more glamorous career choice than it probably is. There are hints of Shakespearean grandeur about the tragedy of this hollow, vacuous and lonely man, but Coogan is too stiff an actor to give us anything more than a bewildered sleaze merchant.
There are various star cameos from the likes of Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas, but the only person really worth watching in this film is the hugely talented Poots, whose Debbie Raymond is a compellingly vulnerable and believable figure.
Otherwise, The Look of Love feels like a missed opportunity, and much ado about nothing.