Have you ever had anything similar happen to you? You move to a new town—let’s say it’s London—and no sooner do you look around than you realize you’ve moved to a new decade, too, one that ended long before you were born. You can see the old styles and sounds of the past (white raincoats, vinyl raincoats, and Petula Clark) as well as the classic colors (Cilla Schwarz, Sandie Shaw and Petula Clark). ThunderballTheatre marquee looking out over a bustling nightlife hub. You’re now resident in 1960s.
That’s okay. It was a decade that your mother loved, God save her heart. Now, you are telling someone new in town that “there’s something about sixties that speaks directly to me.” The same is true of Edgar Wright’s new film. Last Night in SohoSwinging London is used as the backdrop to a story that doesn’t quite know what it wants. Is it a period thriller? Ghost story? Slasher film? A bit of each, really—although the picture may be most successful as a fond recreation of London’s back-in-the-day red-light district, a tatty wonderland of fancy cabarets and dashed-hope prostitutes that’s depicted in all its neon glory by ace Korean cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon.
A strong cast adds much life to the film. Thomasin McKenzie (The Old) is Ellie, a small-town girl from Cornwall who’s come to London to study fashion—dressmaking, and that sort of thing. Ellie’s family is full of seamstresses so she can already make her clothes. The newspaper-printed dress she wears at home in Cornwall is far more original than any of the clothes that Ellie wows later with. Even though she has no money to live off, Synnove Karlsen is her dormroommate. She makes her miserable and rents an apartment from Diana Rigg’s creaky landlady. Ellie manages to save enough money for a large security deposit. In order to maintain her health and well-being in big cities, Ellie takes on a job at a local bar as a bartender. This would be a great job.
As improbabilities accumulate, Ellie—who may have inherited some sort of ESP from her mother, who knows?—begins leading a second life in her dreams, where she gets caught up in the disreputable activities of a young woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, who has a hushed and lovely scene singing an a cappella version of “Downtown”). Sandie yearns to be a singer—or, rather, “a headliner”—at the renowned Café de Paris. She approaches Jack, a man-in-a-suit who helps her realize this dream. Doctor WhoAnd Crown), a talent manager and…something else as well.
Ellie observes Sandie’s life spiraling into disaster and tries to help, but with terrible results. So it appears.
Although the story, by Wright and Krysty W. Wilson-Cairns, isn’t very cohesive and can dull its effects, the director attempted to give it a subtle meta touch, adding period stars to his cast. Rigg, who passed away last year, was a star of British television in the 1960s, playing high-kicking Emma Peel. The AvengersShe later married James Bond’s last and first wife, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Terence Stamp was Oscar nominated in 1962 for the role of a Soho coder. Billy Budd and later featured in the 1966 Modesty Blaise, John Travolta was in the bathroom reading the movie version. Pulp Fiction. Rita Tushingham plays Eloise’s grandmother and was also in Richard Lester’s 1965 movie The Knack…and How to Get It—This key document from the Swinging London period was published just weeks prior to Lester’s second Beatles movie. We need your help
Wright’s movie is heavily inspired by Roman Polanski’s 1965 film Repulsion—A much better movie that aimed to creep us out. However, horror never arrives despite numerous horror symbols appearing toward the final minutes of the movie.