Early on in the career of Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), porn baron, property billionaire and undisputed “King of Soho”, he falls afoul of the stuffy ’50s establishment.
Not for compering a show filled with nearly naked girls, nor for the lion they are failing to tame, but because the girls have the temerity to move onstage – illegal during this puritan period.
For most of its runtime, Michael Winterbottom’s freewheeling biopic has a similar spring in it’s step, whizzing giddily past like a pastiche of every swinging ’60s movie ever made.
Winterbottom has always been a restless soul, and he has great fun switching modes and decades as an ageing Raymond looks back on a montage-filled documentary of his life. It may not move you, but boy does it move.
Equal parts Austin Powers and Alan Partridge, Raymond is a shameless self-promoter, turning a criticism of his nudie play Pyjama Tops into an advertising slogan promising, “Arbitrary displays of naked flesh!”, and making a killing in the process.
In his best film role since 24 Hour Party People – and one he suggested to Winterbottom himself – Coogan has a high old time, embellishing Greenhalgh’s witty script with gleeful Sean Connery and Marlon Brando impressions.
Whether cheating on his wife Jean (Anna Friel), frollicking with showgirls, or doing blow with his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), Raymond is a man completely without a moral compass – or hypocrisy.
“Tell me about yourself, warts and all,” he instructs his mistress Fiona (Tamsin Egerton), before deciding, “skip the warts.” When the film follows Raymond’s lead there’s much to enjoy – cameos from UK comedy stars, strong female performances, Jacqueline Adams’ Herculean production design.
When it attempts to engage with Debbie’s spiralling drug problems, it’s as ill-equipped as her father. “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry!” is his mantra as he cancels her first show. But he’s not trying to spare her feelings so much as stop her from having them, and the film suffers from similar difficulties with emotional engagement.
Raymond – or at least the character portrayed here – isn’t a King Midas who sold his soul for gold, but someone who never had one, so it’s hard to feel anything but impatience until the party starts over.
You suspect the man himself would heartily agree.
Exuberant when it’s in the ascendence but empty on the way back down, this well-crafted cock and balls story is – for the most part – filthy good fun.