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Seeing the mediocrity of the smutty sex parlours of London, Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), entrepreneur, impresario, unveils his first "gentlemen's club" in 1958 and gradually builds an empire of clubs and erotic magazines that brings him vast wealth as 'the King of Soho' while affronting British sexual mores. It also brings a litany of obscenity charges, a failed marriage to Jean (Anna Friel), a broken affair with Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton), troubled daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) and much notoriety. (Based on a true story.)

Review by Louise Keller:
With sex, sophistication and a touch of sleaze as his calling cards to create a platform for wealth and a hedonistic lifestyle, Paul Raymond's real life story as told here by Michael Winterbottom, may be titillating in parts, but the door slams shut on any empathy with its players. Winterbottom has created a voyeuristic feel about his film, drawing us into the indulgent world of the man whose fortunes come from the exploitation of nudity in Soho review shows, private clubs and men-only magazines. As the self-obsessed Raymond, Steve Coogan is perfectly cast, brazenly indulging in his every sexual fantasy; the film concentrating on his desires and urges, as his empire and wealth grow. He is an occasionally fascinating, if repugnant character, whose relationships with his wife, mistress and daughter are the film's focus.

Matt Greenhalgh's screenplay begins with Raymond pointing out to his young granddaughter, as they drive through Soho in his Rolls Royce, all the offices, shops, clubs and houses that he owns. Respectability is what property confers, he tells her. But as time weaves its tapestry through Raymond's life and times, we observe a picture that is far removed from respectability.

There are standout performances by the three women in his life, two of which are victims. Anna Friel is terrific as Raymond's wife Jean, who accepts their open marriage to a point, but there is something pathetic about the way she quizzes him about each girl he has been with, after he arrives home in the wee small hours. Tamsin Egerton is a knockout as the long-legged red-head whose naked audition swimming in a tank makes an impression, while Imogen Poots embodies the tragic Debbie, the daughter on whom Raymond dotes, who is swept up in drug excess.

Time is fluid and we are cleverly brought through the decades: there's a dash of black and white in the 50s and the production design brings back the 70s. Ringo Starr helped design Raymond's apartment, we hear. Women are used as commodities - bare breasts of all shapes and sizes are flaunted everywhere and there are smutty photographs that Raymond insists are not pornography.

The film never manages to delve behind the façade or allow us to understand anything about Raymond beyond his urges, his giant bed, the mirror above and his seemingly insatiable appetite for sex. By the end, I felt rather bored by it all, thinking that a bubble bath might wash away the smut.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
London in the 60s and 70s was a swinging place, quite apart from the Beatles, whose friendship Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) repeatedly claims in this patchy biography. Raymond took Soho's reputation from the sewer to the gutter as he built up a huge business with slightly more class and a lot more daring, appealing to the middle class.

How he did that is not evident in this film, but the results of his entrepreneurship are very much so, from his chauffeur driven Rolls Royce to his expensive penthouse flat - partly designed by the Beatles' Ringo, he boasts a couple of times.

Steve Coogan is more or less appealingly flamboyant as Raymond, and in the latter part of the story, suitably melancholy, but we never get a sense of him as the real Paul Raymond, only a superficial version. The screenplay also takes this approach to his story, making it (perhaps fittingly) as superficially satisfying as porn.

Anna Friel's Jean is a more developed and complex character, and she delivers it with gusto. Imogen Poots is the supersensitive daddy's girl, Debbie, but is not the most likeable character ... indeed, there isn't an abundance of charming people here, as you might expect. There are winners and losers, with Raymond's estranged son Derry (Liam Boyle) being the biggest one.

Only slightly less unappealing is Tamsin Egerton's Fiona Richmond, the gorgeous but amoral sex bomb who breaks up the Raymond marriage, only to be disillusioned by it all not long after.

The redoubtable Stephen Fry has a single scene as the prosecuting barrister in one of Raymond's obscenity trials, in what is surely meant as ironic, given that Fry played Oscar Wilde whose own trial on similar grounds a little more than 60 years earlier. Wilde is also quoted (somewhat surprisingly, if appropriately) by Raymond, as he lies on his bed looking through the open skylight to the night sky: we are in the gutter but we're looking at the stars.

Michael Winterbottom's sentimentality intrudes here, and the frequent use of collage - from the strip shows and his soft porn magazine shoots - does nothing more than act as fillers in what is a paper thin biopic. The film begins with Raymond introducing himself to camera, a device used once more briefly, helping to destabilise the film's already wobbly tone.

Biographies are of great interest if they illuminate their subject and reveal layers, complexities, contradictions and weaknesses in a coherent story. This one is not quite all that.

Published November 6, 2013

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(UK, 2013)

CAST: Steve Coogan, Imogen Poots, Anna Friel, Tamsin Egerton, David Walliams, Stephen Fry, James Lance, Sarah Solemani

PRODUCER: Melissa Parmenter

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom

SCRIPT: Matt Greenhalgh

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hubert Taczanowski

EDITOR: Mags Arnold

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jacqueline Abrahams

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes






DVD RELEASE: November 6, 2013

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