Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terrence Stamp and the late Diana Rigg, Last Night in Soho is the latest film directed by British filmmaker Edgar Wright. The film follows Eloise (McKenzie), who moves to London to study fashion design. One night, she is transported to the Swinging Sixties and ‘becomes’ aspiring singing Sandie (Taylor-Joy). Despite revelling in this world, it doesn’t take long for Eloise to find a darker side to Soho in the 1960s.
When we first meet Eloise, she is a quiet country girl who loves the Swinging Sixties. Having lost her mother at an early age, she is an old soul at heart and enjoys listening to singers such as Petula Clark and Cilla Black. Her chance to study fashion design sees her dream of living in London coming true but she finds that she doesn’t fit in with her fellow students nor the chaos of dorm life. She quickly chooses to live in a bedsit, where she delves into her ultimate escape: 1960s’ Soho. Living vicariously through Sandie, a confident blonde bombshell, Eloise revels in a world full of sharp suits, neon lights and the attention from every man around her, especially smooth talker Jack (Smith).
This inspires Eloise to be more stylish and confident while Sandie inspires her designs at school, but once Eloise is down the rabbit hole, she soon sees her fantasy and reality blur into one disturbing life with haunting consequences. As the film goes on, Paul Machliss’ clever editing between McKenzie and Taylor-Joy allows audiences to witness Eloise’s increasingly unstable grip on reality, which not only sees her experience her deepest desires but also highlight the fears implying her insecurity as a young girl in the big city. The ‘fish out of water’ trope and the quest for independence and self-assured success will resonate with audiences, but Wright and co-screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns adds a psychological twist to exacerbate Eloise’s journey. With the theme of mental illness teased throughout (due to the death of Eloise’s mother), the screenwriters plant the seed of whether Eloise will follow the same path, especially with a nameless elderly gentleman (Stamp) taking a keen interest in her. While her troubles frustratingly paint her a point of ridicule to most people, fellow student John (Michael Ajao) seems to be the only person that forces her to talk and lends a friendly ear – making him a welcome presence in the narrative, especially as nobody is either willing or able to help her.
Following on from her scene-stealing turn in Jojo Rabbit, McKenzie displays immense physicality amid her amazingly expressive performance, which is heightened by her quiet delivery. Taylor-Joy is also captivating as Sandie, combining sex appeal, confidence and determination with one glance into the camera. Strong supporting roles from Matt Smith and Terence Stamp add another layer to Soho’s sleazy side while Diana Rigg (in her last on-screen performance) brings no-nonsense wisdom as Eloise’s landlady.
In his first film since Baby Driver, Wright recreates London in the Swinging Sixties with such power and detail. The costumes, music and production design perfectly recreate this long-forgotten time and the ‘good time’ vibe evokes an irresistible appeal to this perfect escapist world that offers equal bouts of glamour and seediness. In addition, Last Night In Soho‘s evolving narrative quickens the pacing to offer a frenetic energy with its dialogue emphasising the aesthetic differences between Eloise and Sandie’s eras. This falters towards the third act in a somewhat anti-climatic way but combined with haunting visual effects and a grounded screenplay that plays on Eloise’s frame of mind, it creates an intense, visceral journey feature.
Overall, Last Night in Soho showcases mesmerising performances from McKenzie and Taylor-Joy and presents a daring, mind-bending feature enclosed in a neon-lit ode to Soho and its shady history.
Last Night in Soho is out in UK cinemas on 29 October.
Director: Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terrence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Michael Ajao
Runtime: 116 minutes