The life and times of UK porn kingpin Paul Raymond must be the straightest movie Michael Winterbottom has made in a long time. Even his most famous collaboration with Steve Coogan – ”Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” – took the meta approach of being a satirical take of a movie within a movie.
This time there’s no structural tics or fourth wall breaks, just Coogan in costume reading the lines and breathing life into a larger than life figure.
Paul Raymond self styled himself as a libertine businessman in the late 50s with a series of cabaret clubs, and as London’s Soho became the centre of bohemian and sex culture his stock soared, making him a property magnate, magazine publisher (of grumble mag Men Only) and Britain’s richest man.
But as with most people portrayed on screen living what the rest of us would imagine are dream lives, Raymond is an essentially tragic figure. There’s the endless wealth, opulent living, an open marriage to his understanding wife (Ann Friel) and threesomes with centrefold models – all of which Raymond is portrayed as enjoying.
But he’s disinterested in his kids and when he leaves his wife for his new main squeeze, you also think Raymond will be estranged from children for life. But when his daughter Debbie (Poots) grows up she instead finds her way into his world. Figuring her Dad’s clubs and shows can be her ticket to the big time as a singer despite her obvious lack of talent, Debbie instead descends into hard living, bad choices and the wrong collaborators with tragic results.
Raymond is left an old man (most of the sequences are told in flashback), watching VHS home movies of his family and looking as exhausted as he is saddened that despite all his wealth and power, there’s nobody left to love him.
There are plenty of casual laughs and Coogan does an adequate job at deeper drama, all of it played with the self-effacement and lack of histrionics of British actors and filmmakers that Americans still can’t manage.
DVD: Interviews, deleted scenes, trailer.