Last Night in Soho (Edgar Wright, 2021)
Wright first came to prominence for me with the sitcom Spaced, working with Simon Pegg (and the fantastic Jessica Hynes/Stevenson), but I confess I’ve been a little less than methodical with his films. I largely enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Baby Driver, although had issues with the blokeiness of both. I blinked when The Sparks Brothers was released and still can’t decide if he made it all up.
Last Night in Soho is a female-centred story, where one love interest seemed unlikely and the other is going to be a nightmare. The rug is pulled at the end – the horror genre adds an inevitable twist – but otherwise there’s a promise there. Much of the action is set in 1960s Soho, with the present day sequences including sixties icons such as Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham and Terence Stamp. Li’l Orphan Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is headed from Cornwall to the London College of Fashion, and is already hallucinating her dead mother. Having moved from a hideous student hall of residence to a murky flat in Goodge Street, she dreams of the aspiring model Sandie (Anna Taylor-Joy) and her boyfriend/manager Jack (Matt Smith).
The fear, of course, is that it’s going to get too Guy Richie and romanticise the sixties, but the tone grows rapidly dark and Sandie will have to engage in sex work to climb the career ladder. Eloise is reliving these events, convinced Sandie was murdered, but no one will believe her, especially not the male cops.
Undeniably, Wright evokes a neon, Absolute Beginners, Soho, with money splashed on the screen and any number of in-jokes; he cuts between the two women or places their doppelgangers between mirrors and reality – and Smith has made enough interesting choices aside from Doctor Who that we can trust him to do dark.
And then, as the grand guignol does its grand business, there are two twists, neither of which are especially surprising – indeed one of them is heavily telegraphed, but the opportunity of using this character is thrown away. The climax evokes Jane Eyre and Rebecca, but left me a little unsatisfied as the justice you really feel you happen is denied. Is the right person punished?
Of course, you’d expect there to be more made of the mother – but I sat there trying to work out how old the mother was if she was around in the 1960s and her daughter was 18 now. I guess 1980s London is not so photogenic or it would have been too much to recreate both the 1960s and the 1980s or 1990s.