Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

United Kingdom 2021
Directed by
Edgar Wright
118 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Last Night In Soho

Edgar Wright made his feature film debut with the hit 2004 vampire comedy Shaun of the Dead and has, with mixed results, chosen to stay largely in the comedic vein ever since. His latest film, Last Night In Soho, is, like Shaun, a hybrid, part ghost story part coming-of-age story but it is less comedic than anything he has done to date. Indeed it’s a very effective horror story that transmogrifies smoothly from one genre to the other under Wright’s sure directorial hand.

Eloise “Ellie” Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) lives in rustic Cornwall with her Gran (Rita Tushingham, a veteran of “kitchen sink” realist films of the ‘50s and early ‘60s) and dreams of becoming a fashion designer, partly in homage to her mother who committed suicide. When she is accepted into a degree course in London she is overjoyed and can’t wait to explore the home of the Swingin’ Sixties of Mary Quant and Carnaby St. that she adores. On departure day her Gran warns her that London can be “a bit much” especially for sensitive souls such as Ellie.

Arriving at College she finds her fellow dorm students bitchy and shallow and so rents a room at the top of a terrace house owned by Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg, another ‘60s veteran and in her final film role). In her dreams an excited Ellie goes exploring the nearby streets and discovers a portal back to the ’60s. There she encounters Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), a naïve  young woman her own age who has also come to London following her dreams to be a singer like Cilla Black or Sandy Shore. Ellie cuts her hair and dresses like Sandy in the daytime and looks forward to following Sandy’s adventures in her dreams at night.  But soon these sour as a sleazy would-be Soho impresario, Jack (Matt Smith), puts Sandy to work as a “hostess” servicing predatory old men. As the pressure of being alone in London rises Ellie is unable to separate dream from reality and comes to believe that Sandy is communicating with her from beyond the grave.

Co-written by Wright with Krysty Wilson-Cairns the interplay between the real and the imaginary is adeptly drawn, initially modestly laying out Ellie’s emotional fragility and her highly keyed expectations but then slowly moving events away from her psychological susceptibility and into visitations from lost souls of yesteryear with Ellie coming to believe that Sandy was murdered by a suspicious stranger (Terence Stamp, completing a trifecta of '60s screen icons) I’m not a big watcher of horror but the journey worked for me.

Partly the success of the film is due to the captivating performance by Thomasin McKenzie as the young woman who must summon all her self-belief in order to keep her sanity, a state of affairs which is pre-echoed in a uncomfortable taxi ride on her arrival in London. As Sandy, Anya Taylor-Joy has less to do dramatically but she also fills her role well including a stylish rendition of Petula Clark’s well-chosen “Downtown”. I must say however that I kept wondering what would the film have been like if Ms McKenzie had played both parts, something which would have amped up the discombobulating identity issues considerably.  Either way, kudos to both cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung  and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux, for giving the film a right-on retro look and editor Paul Machliss for keeping the narrative flowing seamlessly.

A neat little horror story then the bonus is that Last Night In Soho is chockers with mid-‘60s Top of the Pops hits from the likes of not just Petula Clark and Cilla Black but Dusty Springfield, Peter and Gordon and James Ray (I thought his ‘I’ve Got My Mind Set on You’ was a George Harrison original). The film’s title comes from a song by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.

Certainly for my money Last Night In Soho is the best thing that Wright has done to date (some favour Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 2010), and ‘60s buffs in particular will find plenty to enjoy.

FYI: For a more highbrow take on similar subject matter see Lone Scherfig’s charmer An Education (2009)




Want something different?

random vintage best worst