The Look of
by Johnny Web (Greg Wroblewski)
|This is a biopic of Paul Raymond, a British
entrepreneur who turned various adult enterprises into
a fortune large enough to get him labeled as Britain's
richest man. He started with strip clubs, moved up
first to burlesque shows, then to naughty theatrical
revues in the West End. He branched into publishing
(Mayfair, Club International, Men Only), and
systematically converted his cash flow into real
estate holdings, which eventually got him the title of
"The King of Soho" after he had acquired 60 of the 87
acres covered by that London district.
The Daily Mail covered the high points of his bio here.
The movie does present just about every detail mentioned in that article linked above, but all of that is just window dressing for the film's dramatic heft, an in-depth portrayal of Raymond's genuine love for, and over-indulgence of, his daughter Debbie, who gradually was pulled into his louche orbit of non-stop fun, sleaze and drugs. In the framing story, an elderly Raymond looks back on his life, wonders if he could have avoided all his parental mistakes by steering Debbie toward a more sensible path, one which would not have resulted in her death at 37 from a heroin OD. The old fellow seems a bit weak in the self-analysis department, because the film ends with him seeming to repeat all of the same mistakes with his oldest granddaughter. That ending reinforced a point made throughout the film: that Raymond, although basically a decent person, never learned from his mistakes, having lost the love of his life in the same way he lost his first wife, through a succession of misbegotten adventures with casual lovers, none of whom he cared to, or bothered to, hide from the women he loved and was living with.
The film's treatment of the big-time world of sleaze is superficial and overly glossy. Raymond is pictured wandering through London without his usual retinue of bodyguards. No rivals get strong-armed, no public officials are pictured taking kick-backs, no feminists protest the objectification of women, and Raymond's army of shifty attorneys is left in the background. Picturing all of that more accurately would have strengthened the film's point that Raymond was reckless to draw Debbie into that world, and could have lent the film the gravitas it seemed to crave.
The film doesn't really need to be weighty to be worthwhile, however, because it's an easy one to watch, especially for male audiences, who should find it funny, sexy and nostalgic. Steve Coogan portrays Raymond as a charming fellow quick with a quip. The times and the styles are fun to remember, and the screen is constantly filled with gorgeous eye candy.