Starring: Steve Coogan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots
You may like this if you like: 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002), Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2009), Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)
The true story of billionaire porn baron and so called ‘King of Soho’ Paul Raymond (Coogan) whose rise in the sixties made him one of the wealthiest men in Britain. This charts his incredible rise and wealth produced from his inventive and audacious ways of pushing the boundaries of what is socially accepted in clubs and on the stage. His love of women on stage matched that of his own personal love for women and drugs, and he had excessive wealth and lovers to match. However, inevitably with such success and hedonism, also came a troubled personal life that consumed both Raymond and those around him, and ultimately lead to tragedy.
Love him or loathe him, there is no denying that Steve Coogan cannot escape the whole Alan Partridge thing. So, here he is in yet another Michael Winterbottom film, once again playing a real life character. Well, just like his portrayal of Tony Wilson, Coogan’s Paul Raymond has elements of Partridge in him, for perhaps using the facets of what makes Alan so endearing. Despite the obvious unlikeable flaws of Paul Raymond, for me Coogan gives a fine and assured performance making him likeable and compelling. He is a fascinating character that pushed the boundaries of what was socially accepted and of course like many characters, it was his tendency for the excessive that was the course of his tragedy.
Winterbottom himself seems to like to have a go at most genres and his depiction of 60s and 70s London is a hedonistic and energetic experience. He is obviously having a lot of fun making this film, and perhaps does get a little too carried away at times. Despite the energy, great set design and array of British actors the first two thirds do sometimes feel a little repetitive and venture towards boring at times, but are always good filthy fun. The script itself is witty and sharp, giving Coogan’s natural screen charisma the chance to shine when the times are good, but ultimately leaving an emotional vacuum for the inevitable bad times.
It is not until the final third and the inevitable downfall that there is some emotional substance, and though it is hard to care about most of the characters, there is genuine emotional involvement to be found in the father-daughter relationship and ensuing tragedy. What we have seen in the previous two thirds makes it difficult for us to like Raymond but it is very human flaws that cause his downfall, and despite his vast wealth he is emotionally bankrupt. Of course the excess to tragedy arc is not the most original, and though this is a true story there is nothing here that will have a lasting profound effective on anyone, but while it is happening it is never any less than watchable.
Winterbottom and Coogan once again team up and are blatantly enjoying themselves in what is an energetic and always enjoyable romp of a biopic. It may sometimes verge on self indulgent and lacks the perhaps intended emotional punch, but there is just about enough substance to make this an overall enjoyable and watchable flick.