If you are inclined to go and see this film because it contains a lot of naked women, by all means do so, but prepare to be disappointed if you are hoping for something sexy. This a film about a sad and unappealing man, who had everything, and nothing.
There was a time when Paul Raymond was a household name, especially if you were in the wrong kind of household. Think of him as a tackier Hugh Hefner, perhaps – and that really is tacky. Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan have decided to make a film about his sleazy career as a porn purveyor, and tragic anti-hero. What particularly struck them was that in 1992, he was the richest man in the UK – and that the only person he really loved, his daughter, had just died of a drugs overdose. Shakespeare couldn’t have done any better. The only problem is that Raymond/Coogan is not a very appealing protagonist.
The real man started out as Geoffrey Quinn in Liverpool. His dad left home when he was 5, and he was mainly raised by priests. He became a black market spiv after WW2, then did a magic act, before realising the potential demand there was for naked women. He built the rest of his career around that single fact.
The key element of his success was pushing the boundaries of what was permitted. Initially naked women (well, topless, to be precise) weren’t allowed to move (too titillating), but he soon managed to find a way round that, and by the time he moved to Soho to open his club, he was on the way to infamy and fortune. No marketing strategy was too shoddy, and given that there was an insatiable demand for what he wanted, the market would always make sure he came out on top,
The film’s narrative is structured around three women. His first wife (Anna Friel) who endures his infidelity for so long, before cracking; Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton) who he left his wife for; and his daughter (Imogen Poots) who he spoilt rotten. (He and his son were estranged). We witness his rise and rise in the porn business, and watch his insatiable need to be surrounded by sexy women in his bed – as many as possible at a time. The character of Raymond as portrayed by Coogan seems to be almost without a single redeeming feature. He’s narcissistic, boring, single-minded, unfaithful, unkind, shallow – and that’s on a good day.
So why do we want to watch a film about him? Yes, his daughter’s death was tragic for him, but it was also a direct by product of the life he chose to live. He treated everyone else like shit, he contributed nothing to the sum of human wellbeing, and he’s the kind of person you’d cross the road to avoid, if you saw him coming. And although he gives it his best shot, Coogan never really gives us a reason to care about him. The shadow of Alan Partridge hangs over his performance, inevitably because he is a part of Coogan,just as David Brent is part of Ricky Gervais. And frankly, Partridge is someone I’d rather spend time with than Paul Raymond.
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