Last Night In Soho


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Last Night In Soho
"It’s a film which some viewers will find exhausting to watch, hammering home its emotive points rather than letting us explore on our own. Within this, however, there are some surprisingly delicate performances."

At first sight, Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho is reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris – louder, grittier and grimier, of course, but that’s London. The allure of the past is strong there, and cinema has played a significant part in that, as have small screen works featuring one of this film’s co-stars. Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit, True History Of The Kelly Gang is Eloise, a shy outsider who has always dreamed of life in the big smoke but, crucially, life in a different era. When she wins a place at the London School of Fashion, she’s thrilled to have the chance to work on her Sixties-inspired designs, but the hostility of her classmates leads her to move out of student halls and take up lodgings in a crumbling old house as the lodger of one Mrs. Collins (Diana Rigg in her final screen role). It’s there, late at night, that she begins to find herself magically transported back into the past – but unlike Allen’s nostalgic Paris, this a past which quickly becomes very dark indeed.

Going hand in hand with nostalgia here is the desire to become somebody else. Eloise doesn't really have a strong sense of self. She longs for the kind of confidence displayed – however horribly – by the popular girls on her course. It feels wonderful, therefore, for her to find herself in the body of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman bursting with ebullient charm, utterly sure of herself and of her destiny. Sandie intends to become a singer, up there on the stage under the bright lights, and she’s ready to do whatever it takes to get there. With her bleached blond beehive and fabulous clothes, she certainly has the look. It’s this that catches the eye of Jack (a splendidly sleazy Matt Smith), who instantly recognises her potential – but what he has in mind for her is a different line of work. Adults will instantly see the trap. For some younger viewers, as for Eloise, the horror will emerge slowly from the shadows, beyond the sequins and the swinging hips, the laughter and the endless rounds of drinks. By the time Sandie understands, getting away is very difficult indeed.

What is the purpose of all this? As Eloise’s excitement about her nightly escapades turns to fear, the film itself shifts gears and becomes a sort of ghost story. Eloise’s quest to track Sandie down and discover her fate leads her to acquire a fresh understanding of the city’s history, as well as meeting some sinister characters who remain active in her own time. Could she be putting herself in a position where she faces material danger as well as being tormented by echoes of the past? McKenzie is good and hits all the right notes as a Gothic heroine in unlikely clothing, seeking to untangle the threads of a tapestry already woven, wanting to help Sandie but aware that, in her efforts, she risks becoming hopelessly entangled herself.

This being a Wright film, it’s all very dramatically stated, with swelling music and swirling lights, sets which look as if they have been lifted from the pages of a graphic novel and larger than life characters. Rarely pausing for breath, it’s a film which some viewers will find exhausting to watch, hammering home its emotive points rather than letting us explore on our own. Within this, however, there are some surprisingly delicate performances. McKenzie is its human centre, fragile and awkward yet keeping it real, not getting swept away by the archetypes on which her character is based. Taylor-Joy eases perfectly into the role of Sixties belle, to the extent that somebody really should create a TV series in which she gets to do something similar, yet commands impressive emotional weight when choosing to show us the flip side of her character’s ambition. Whilst Rigg doesn’t have as much to do, she’s as impressive as ever, and this seems an appropriate way to bow out.

This is very much a London film, aware of the enormity of the city, the weight not just of its large population but of its history and the aggressive way it has made its mark on the world. Its chimneys no longer belch out smoke but the inky stains on its stones remain. So too do memories of murders, pogroms, plague and fire. Wright conjures up a world of neons and shadow, the legendary stuff of Soho, in a film operatic in tone yet sticky at the edges, smelling of stale Fracas, gin and cigarettes.

Reviewed on: 23 Jan 2022
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Last Night In Soho packshot
Eloise, an aspiring fashion designer, is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer, Sandie. But the glamour is not all it appears to be.
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Director: Edgar Wright

Writer: Edgar Wright, Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Jessie Mei Li, Diana Rigg, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Lisa McGrillis, Margaret Nolan, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Rita Tushingham, Synnove Karlsen, Michael Jibson, Katrina Vasilieva, Andrew Bicknell

Year: 2021

Runtime: 116 minutes

Country: UK

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