A breezy romp through the life of Paul Raymond – the entrepreneur who became very rich through his strip joints, adult magazines and numerous properties in London's Soho – Winterbottom's agreeable biopic is by no means a realistic depiction of the multi-millionaire's life, but it is a most entertaining one.
A fast-flowing narrative sees Raymond (Coogan) looking back at the events of his life – his early beginnings achieving success in sepia-toned 1958, then the burgeoning sexual revolution of the '60s followed by the drug hazed '70s culminating in his daughter Debbie's death in 1992. Coogan holds it all together well with an unshowy performance. He's a relatively calm centre, never quite dominating the proceedings though he does resonate quiet authority when he needs to and slyly does quick impersonations of Sean Connery and Marlon Brando at odd moments. Friel gives a feisty turn as his first wife, Jean, mad with rage at being usurped by the younger, leggy Fiona Richmond (Egerton). Both women look great in the nude, as do all the gorgeous ladies that parade by as models for his men's mags, but the nudity isn't leering or lecherous. There's a matter-of-factness about it all that makes it all seem very natural – the camera never dwells on it too much.
The heart of the movie comes from Poots as the tragic, drug-addicted Debbie. This immensely gifted young actress can communicate at a moment's notice the vulnerability lurking beneath the character's brazen exterior at trying to please her demanding father. There's a terrific scene where Raymond tells her that he's closing the show she's appearing in as it's losing too much money, and the devastation she feels at this news is beautifully handled – none too subtle, but deftly and convincingly portrayed.
The movie isn't subtle either – the production design is top notch in depicting the garish colours and tacky designs as we move through the freewheeling '60s and '70s – and Winterbottom directs in broad strokes, never taking a breath. It's the right attitude in showing the tawdry lifestyles of the protagonists, and we can't help but like them. There's no depth, however, to this carefree wallow in the naughty underside of London culture – one is never moved by the more melodramatic developments of the second half – but nevertheless the energy and verve that this effort displays is very persuasive. It's a colourful, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable escapade, though it lacks the requisite weight to make it memorable. Well worth a look though.