Writer: Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Director: Edgar Wright
The best film about the Swinging Sixties is, of course, Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s film about a fashion photographer caught up in some kind of crime. Last Night in Soho by director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver) is also concerned with the darker side of the Swinging Sixties, but that is where the similarities end. Blow Up is a masterpiece in ambiguity; Last Night in Soho is a silly shocker.
Eloise has come to study at the London College of Fashion. She’s only been to London once before; since her mother died she’s been living in Cornwall with her grandmother (an underused Rita Tushingham who, in her prime, was more known for kitchen-sink dramas than for glitzy movies set in the capital). Her grandmother has passed on her love of the 60s to Eloise who arrives in the student accommodation armed with a suitcase and a portable record player.
She feels out of place immediately; her fellow students are acidic and shallow. They drink and take drugs. Only John, who also feels isolated, is kind to her. She moves out of halls and into a Goodge Street bedsit owned by Diana Rigg, in her last film before she died in 2020. At night when Eloise sleeps she’s whisked back to London’s heydays where she watches and sometimes becomes singer Sandie.
The earliest visits back to the club scene are the most effective, and there’s fun seeing the excitement and the glamour of places like the Cafe de Paris. We hear and see Cilla Black belting out her songs, and the film promises to be a nostalgic time-travel drama about Sandie making it big. But after Sandie meets Teddy Boy Jack the film seeks to explore the exploitation of women that the Swinging Sixties hid behind its facade of Mod fashions and nightlife. Even this abrupt shift in gear holds potential. But then the film just becomes a lame zombie movie.
As Sandie, Anya Taylor-Joy is thrilling in her opening scenes where she gives a very 21st century rendition of Petula Clark’s Downtown. As her alter ego, Thomasin McKenzie is suitably green as the sixties-obsessed Eloise, and Matt Smith is perfectly greasy as Jack. Terence Stamp wanders around the streets as the only link between the 60s and the present day while Michael Ajao’s John is sweet natured and shy, and provides the only two jokes in the film (though to be honest they are the same joke). With such a great cast it’s just a shame that the story is so disappointing.
Wright must have an issue with black cab drivers because in his film they rush down Soho’s streets at speed nearly knocking down every character, and right at the beginning Eloise is a potential victim of sexual assault as she is driven from the railway station to her accommodation. Perhaps Wright is trying to link today’s toxic masculinity to that of the 60s where woman were also sexually assaulted in ways that were seen to be socially acceptable. But to put all the blame on taxi drivers does seem a little unfair.
The film’s saving grace are the costumes designed by Odie Dicks-Mireaux; the white plastic raincoat, the pink baby doll dress; the blue Edwardian suit; the Peter Pan collar; the black hourglass dress. If only we got to see that Biba outfit in the back of the vintage store.
Last Night in Soho is screening at the London Film Festival.