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“My name is Paul Raymond,” coos Steve Coogan, playing Britain’s greatest porn king. “Welcome to my world of erotica.” So begins this funny and touching film about “the grandfather of Soho”.
The film was its star’s idea and he teams up with director Michael Winterbottom for the fourth time to create a perfect vehicle for his comic talent and growing dramatic maturity. Using flashbacks, it tells Raymond’s story over 50 years from his birth in Liverpool as Geoffrey Quinn, through his time as a mind-reader on Clacton pier and his arrival in London, to 1992, when he was named richest man in Britain. Its focuses on his relationship with the three most important women in his life: his wife and choreographer Jean, his lover Amber (who became the Men Only columnist Fiona Richmond), and his daughter Debbie.
Its vision is kindly. The humour of Coogan’s performance and Matt Greenhalgh’s taut screenplay make Raymond, who died in 2008, into a lovable figure. He may have been be a sex addict, the film suggests, but he’s honest about it. He may spoil his daughter rotten, giving her all the cake and coke she asks for, but he loves her deeply, and her untimely death destroys him inside.
As presented here, Raymond’s ingenuity and his talent for PR are awe-inspiring. When a newspaper pans his play for “arbitrary displays of naked flesh”, he posts the quote outside the theatre. But when a director suggests staging a ravishment scene featuring both Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, he draws a line. “You can’t have rape and pillage twice,” he reasons. “That’s too much.”
The film’s weakness is that Winterbottom’s closeness to the Raymond family, who still own large parts of Soho and helped secure access to historically authentic locations, seems to have led him to take a positive, even hagiographic, view of his subject. Winterbottom claimed his intention was to tell “a King Midas story and a morality tale”, which makes it sound like a new version of Citizen Kane. As it is, Raymond’s journey into solitude and regret doesn’t move from the specific to the universal.— Sebastian Doggart, The Telegraph
Wed September 25, 2013, 7:00 & 9:15, Muenzinger Auditorium
UK, 2012, English, Color, 101 mins, DP, 2.35:1, NR • official site