Last Night in Soho (2021)
Directed by: Edgar Wright | 118 minutes | drama, horror | Actors: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Aimee Cassettari, Rita Tushingham, Colin Mace, Michael Ajao, Synnove Karlsen, Jessie Mei Li, Kassius Nelson, Rebecca Harrod, Alan Mahon, Connor Calland, Pauline McLynn, Terence Stamp
Edgar Wright (‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Baby Driver’) has seen a lot of changes in Soho, a neighborhood in London’s West End, in the last 25 years. The buildings remained the same but restaurants and clubs changed. Strip clubs and porn bookstores became shoe stores, and The Marquee, where Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie performed, is now an apartment complex. This sparked his fantasy of going back in time and a desire to see what it was like back then. At the same time, he realized that they weren’t all pink clouds. Since 2012-2013, he has toyed with the idea of making a film about the dark side of the 60s, London, and comparing it to today’s modern age. Thus the idea for ‘Last Night in Soho’ was born. Though it would be titled “Red Light Area” first and then “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes,” a conversation with fellow cinematographer Quentin Tarantino prompted him to call the film “Last Night In Soho.” Partly inspired by British horror films such as Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ and Roman Polanski’s ‘Repulsion’, the film was co-written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the Scottish screenwriter turned global star with her script for Sam Mendes’ war film. ‘1917’.
Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) lives with her grandmother and is a big fan of the music and fashion of the London 60s. Her dream is to make it as a fashion designer. One day she receives an envelope in the letterbox stating that she has been accepted into the prestigious London College of Fashion. Exuberant and enthusiastic, she moves from Cornwall to the big city to start her career there. Only, because of her rural demeanor and clothing style, she is difficult to accept by the other students and London is less romantic than she thought. To be left alone, she moves into a room rented out by a certain Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). That evening she has a vivid dream about the 1960s, the time she longed for. In the dream, she observes a young blond woman, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is bursting with self-confidence and sexuality. In this, Sandie informs in the chic Café de Paris how she can work as a singer there. She also meets Jack (Matt Smith), a sort of manager who can help her with her career. For example, every night Ellie dreams about Sandie and her life in bustling London. She also gets inspired by Sandie. She designs them the clothes of her dreams and also customizes her appearance. Although at first it seems like Jack wants to help Sandie, it soon becomes clear that he has other plans. The dreams become nightmares and romantic London becomes a dancing, singing monster.
Sometimes we feel like it was always better before. Nostalgically we long for earlier years where everything shines and radiates with happiness. What we forget is that every light casts a shadow and that the good and the bad always coexist hand in hand. Edgar Wright, himself a fan of the 60s (the protagonist thus partly reflects his own fondness for the time) realized this all too well when he researched for the film and encountered the dark side of London. It is this conclusion that forms the basis for the film. Ellie is the proverbial Little Red Riding Hood who is warned by her grandmother about the big bad London. Behind all the glitter & glamor is a harsh world where the beast in man has a playground and makes victims. Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns have done a great job of showing the double face of 1960s London and how innocents are crushed by the jaws of this city. Friedrich Nietzche’s statement ‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster’ is well applicable here and it is an art to preserve one’s humanity. Although that is not always possible.
Thomasin McKenzie (“JoJo Rabbit”, “Leave no Trace”) flawlessly portrays Ellie’s rural innocence with her lost eyes and uncertain looks. Her energy takes us into the kaleidoscopic dreams in which she loses and finds herself again. Anya Taylor-Joy (“The VVitch”, “The Queen’s Gambit”) is an artist who conveys mystery, complexity and understated sexuality. Her eyes have the tranquility of the deep sea that we know is a false sense of security. Anya shakes the role of Sandie right off the bat and dominates every moment she’s on screen. Matt Smith (“The Crown”, ‘Official Secrets’) plays his part as Jackie too well. The role is made for him and you can’t imagine him being any other person than the one he’s playing. He never leaves us in doubt as to the type of person to introduce. Furthermore, this was the last role of Diana Rigg (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, “Game of Thrones”) who passed away September 10, 2020 at the age of 82. Ms Collins portrays them with the same fire and energy as she portrayed Lady Olenna Tyrell in “Game of Thrones”. She is a valuable addition to the cast.
Just like in Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’, the film music plays a central role. It is the leitmotif and compass of ‘Last Night In Soho’. The viewer is aurally and visually immersed in the London Swinging Sixties. It takes him or her no effort to let go of disbelief to be included in the events that shape the core of the story.
‘Last Night in Soho’ is a journey to the past but also one to the dark side of humanity. Because even though it’s about London, it’s the people who make a place a place. The monsters hide behind clean-shaven faces and expensive suits. The film effectively communicates the two faces of the nostalgic past and how we should actually judge it. There are lessons that people make and there are lessons that people break. We hope for the former, but unfortunately the latter is often the case. How do we protect our humanity in a world that does everything it can to take it away? Watch the movie and answer this question yourself.