VOD film review: Last Night in Soho
James R | On 20, Dec 2021
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Thomasin Mackenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rita Tushingham, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg
“I’ve got this kind of gift. I can see people, places, things others can’t.” That’s Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a young would-be fashion designer who moves from Cornwall to London to make her dreams a reality in the capital. But London can be a lot, she’s warned by her concerned grandma (Rita Tushingham). When her dreams become a reality in an all too literal way, the stage is set for a catwalk that’s as pointed and chilling as it is polished and stylish.
After a brief detour into documentary waters with The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright swings back into narrative cinema and his exuberant, energetic style gives us a London that’s dripping with atmosphere and cool. His camera glides effortlessly through the West End, sweeping us – along with Eloise – into a 1960s version of the city, where Eloise finds herself taking the place of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a younger woman who was also drawn to the bright lights of the metropolis several decades ago.
A string of nightclub sequences not only introduce us to these vivid visions but immerse us in them, and before long we’re spinning round the dance floor with Eloise/Sandie as she’s wooed by the smooth-talking Jack (an enjoyably untrustworthy Matt Smith). A jaw-dropping visual motif of reflections pings Eloise and Sandie back and forth between either side of every shiny surface going, while we brace ourselves for cracks to start appearing.
And appear they do, but not in the way that’s intended. The more Eloise loses herself in Sandie’s living memory, the more the film descends to dubious depths. An attempt to explore trauma and violence emerges as a tone-deaf piece of storytelling, as the film can’t escape its own male gaze – and having Penny Dreadful’s Krysty Wilson-Cairns writing the screenplay unfortunately isn’t enough to help balance things out. The frustration of the film lies in the fact that so many elements do work very well.
In the lead, Anya Taylor-Joy is mesmerising as the wide-eyed but cynical Sandie, who can sing Downtown with the best of them, and Thomas McKenzie carries a sense of fragility with her that Eloise her leaves us on the edge of our seats, perched somewhere between her excitement and overwhelmed fear.
The location work and production design are as handsome as they come, whether it’s the Goodge Place bedsit that acts as a bridge between these two lives or the brief appearance of Cilla Black at the Café de Paris. The supporting actors, too, bring some depth to the backdrops, including a lingering Terence Stamp as an alert veteran of the 1960s now grown old and the scene-stealing Diana Rigg as Eloise’s formidable landlady, Ms Collins.
But all the pretty surfaces in the world and a committed cast can’t help a central bedroom scene feel any less uncomfortable or tasteless, while the script’s endeavours to twist and turn around our expectations leave its ghostly logic muddled and its overall moral and social stance confused and self-contradictory. It’s a bold, ambitious step into new territory for Wright, but one that exposes other limitations. “I’ve got this kind of gift. I can see people, places, things others can’t,” says Eloise, as she spirals through the overlong two-hour runtime. For a filmmaker whose distinctive style is the appeal of his work, this is a rare time when you wish Edgar Wright could see things from someone else’s perspective.