I have been waiting for this film for a year or so but it has been long delayed due to Covid. I really liked the look of it from the trailers and though those elements are very enticing and didn’t disappoint, the actual film is so much better.
I’ve written before how I often experienced what some might be thought to be ghostly goings on. Just last Monday I had been tapping me teeth to imitate some music from Squid Games at 5am when I heard some weird noises and then a tapping noise on one of my antique bronze cups I have on a cabinet top. I ignored it, things happen to me! But then the cup started moving in the dark, just an inch or so but I could hear it scraping along the wooden top. I sat up in bed in the dark, looking right where I knew the cups to be and then there were a series of tapping noises from the cups, imitating the noise beat I had been making with my teeth and with every tap, a very bright flash.
I wasn’t asleep, I had been awake for an hour which was why I was so bored that I was tapping my teeth together to make a tune. It took me a while to put the lights on but when I did, all the cups were tightly in place except for the one I had heard move of its own accord! I knew it was my mother who I miss every day and visits me often in various unusual ways.
Last Night In Soho is about a young Cornish girl from the countryside about 300 miles from London. She is haunted literally and figuratively by her mother who went to London with the dream of being a fashion designer but like many who visit any big city, especially London, found it too overbearing and sadly took her own life.
Ellie has something of an obsession with the 1960’s the music, the fashion and maybe she is a little living in the past because she has no mother in the present or future. She arrives in London ready to make her dream come true of becoming a successful clothes designer but finds her fellow students to be too much and quite frankly horrible whilst also unprepared for the more dangerous elements of a big city.
She seeks refuge in a studio flat, not much more than a bedsit in a big old house on a quiet street that hasn’t changed much in decades, if not centuries and is owned by the rather stern Mrs Collins who is wonderfully played by Diana Rigg in her last on-screen role.
Being sensitive to spirits, when she goes to sleep she finds herself in the glamorous world of Sandie, a blonde dancer and singer who has also just arrived in Soho but back in the 1960’s. Her dream is to become rich and famous and her lifestyle and glamour is enticing to Ellie who is drawn to her in such a way that it becomes an obsession.
At first, Soho is everything Sandie could ever wish for, especially when she meets Jack (Matt Smith from Doctor Who) who runs various establishments. He wows Sandy with flashy cars, bright lights and opens doors for her at auditions, promising her the Earth. But all is not quite as it seems and Sandy eventually gets entangled in the murky underworld, much against her will. Ellie sees the excitement and the eventual fall, culminating in her bloody murder.
But that isn’t the end, in a way it is just the beginning as her waking world is more and more disturbed by violent flashbacks of Sandie and then men in her life until it seems certain that Ellie herself is going to fall off the rails and at best end her life like as her mother did or suffer a fate similar to Sandy.
It’s so rare to get a film set in London that feels like London, doubly so with American films. They just never feel real and usually thats because they aren’t but Edgar Wright isn’t just from London but has spent years of his life in and around Soho much like I have and it makes all the difference.
There is nowhere quite like Soho, almost 500 years old but still one of the most creative neighbourhoods on earth with untold music, television and film offices nestled in amongst restaurants, pubs, live music venues and all sorts. But amongst the good-times and the glamour, there is more than a hint of danger about Soho, at times as if the neon lights are just a facade of a murkier and maybe dangerous world beneath.
One of the things I like about this film is that it highlights the two sides of Soho; the sides that visitors see, the public side of fun and leisure and creativity but as those who live, work or spend lots of time there will know, there is another side to it.
Last Night In Soho makes use of so many real venues and streets and alleys and the way it delves into the 1960’s bright lights is all enveloping but the darker side is hinted at even in the modern day with Ellie’s perverted taxi driver, her friends obsession with partying and sometimes dodgy clubs, massage parlours and the like.
I’ve been going to Soho since about 1993 and back then it was one of the seediest places in London with sex joints everywhere, grungy pubs and clubs, drugs and gangsters from Hong Kong known as Triads and though things have moved on a lot from the 60’s and a little from the 90’s in a way, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Especially my university library which was used for one of the chilling scenes where Ellie is trying to do her research on murder victims.
One of the things I really like about all Edgar Wright films is the soundtrack. He is from Soho, he loves music and all his films have stonkingly good musical pieces and this is littered by sounds of the 60’s. He also has a great style visually and ups the suspense as needed whilst allowing us all to fall in love with the life of Sandy whilst feeling the wonder and apprehension of Ellie.
I’ve never seen a film quite like this. It’s a thriller, it’s a ghost story, it has sparingly used elements of horror but is also liberating and life-affirming whilst also being incredibly moving. There is a good twist too.
Diana Rigg played her small but key part wonderfully well and there is a sprinkling of other big names from the 1960’s. Matt Smith was terrific. He plays the suave and cool 60’s manager with aplomb but what a horrible character Jack the Pimp really is! Thomasin McKenzie really pulls off the doe-eyed youngster overwhelmed by London and then the events that unfold. I very much related to her. Sandie is played by Anya Taylor-Joy who has become increasingly prominent since her turn in The Queens Gambit probably steals the show with performance though, she very much is Sandy and it’s great to see her entrance into what she hopes will be the big time before it all tragically goes wrong.
But for me it wouldn’t work if they didn’t really film in Soho which due to its 24/7 nature was incredibly hard for them to do… likely why no-one has done so before. The scene where Sandy crosses the road to go in Cafe De Paris is jaw dropping as is the amazing car ride she and Jack goes on through the thronging Soho of the 60’s. I think it’s captured London on film the best way since The Gentlemen, two or three years ago. Everywhere the characters go it makes sense, all the locations make sense and it just feels really like Soho which to me is the real star.
Just remember, when you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go Downton.
If you like thrillers, the 60’s or London then you’ll love Last Night In Soho. Even the trailer below is smart and edgy, drawing you in as happened to Ellie.