- “Last Night in Soho” starring Anya Taylor-Joy premiered in Venice on Saturday.
- The film was co-written and directed by Edgar Wright.
- The film is a swinging 60’s psychological thriller.
In all big cities, there is what feels like an endless supply of art students. In London, the majority of these students belong to the University of the Arts London (UAL), which is famous for its world-leading fashion design courses, which have produced some of the greatest designers to ever live (Alexander McQueen, Riccardo Tisci, John Galliano, to name a few). Fashion courses are taught at two UAL sites across the city: Central Saint Martins (the most prestigious) and London College of Fashion.
In “Last Night in Soho,” British director Edgar Wright’s latest film, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) has moved to London to attend the latter, which is nestled on a street corner on Oxford Street just around the way from the film’s titular location: Soho.
Eloise is originally from Cornwall on the south coast of England — something her student colleagues believe should bring her deep shame and sadness. And as Eloise’s first semester progresses, her classmate’s mean girl act becomes more intense, forcing her to leave her student apartment for a bedsit on Goodge Street (an absurd prospect for reasons I will explain later). And it is here that things start to get weird. Eloise makes some new friends in Sandy (a brilliant Anya Taylor-Joy) and Jack (Matt Smith). The trio becomes deeply intertwined, and the barriers between reality and nightmare begin to fall.
What’s Hot: Anya Taylor-Joy is the pulsing heart of ‘Last Night in Soho’
On Saturday morning before “Last Night in Soho” was screened for the press in Venice, Wright posted a note on social media asking the audience to refrain from leaking any potential spoilers online or in write-ups like this. And for good reason: there are several jaw-dropping turns throughout the film.
“Please, if you can, keep the experience intact for future audiences so that what happens in ‘Last Night in Soho,’ stays in Soho,” he wrote.
The film’s trailer, which was released in June, is bold but cryptic. It reveals Taylor-Joy, McKenzie, and Smith and confirms that at least some of the narrative is set between modern-day London and London in the swinging 1960s. So that is where I will attempt to stay during this review, which leaves me little room to maneuver. What I can report from the Venice screenings, however, is that Wright’s film received the most laughs, gasps, and cheers of any film I watched in what are notoriously grumpy press screenings. The film’s charm is largely down to Anya Taylor-Joy who is a perfect match for Wright’s youthful energy. There are also extended singing and dance sequences featuring Taylor-Joy who can hold a tune — her rendition of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” is hard to shake. As with all Wright pictures, there is also a fantastically witty script full of hearty jokes and pop references (this time Wright co-wrote with “1917” writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns.) One particular joke garnered huge laughs from what I assume was the British contingent in the screening.
The gag goes, one night at an Irish bar in Soho, Eloise — still inept in the London ways — asks the barmaid for a Vesper Martini and is promptly mocked. “This isn’t Mayfair,” the barmaid jokes. For anyone unfamiliar with London, Mayfair is an upmarket area in West London where punters might typically drink something as pretentious as a Vesper Martini. Soho, on the other hand, has historically been considered a more seedy part of town — home to some of the city’s gay clubs and sex stores.
I lay this joke out here because it highlights the delusion that Wright’s film relies on. Soho is no longer the seedy part of town — and it hasn’t been for many years thanks to the presence of international filmmakers like Wright (he has repeatedly stated that he lives in the area). No one mine nor Eloise’s age would be caught partying in Soho and we certainly wouldn’t be living there. How kitsch. How expensive! In a press conference before the film’s premiere in Venice, Wright told journalists that he conceived the idea for the film over a decade ago and it truly feels like it.
For all the film’s playful takedowns of London’s pervy cab drivers, the unforgiving housing market, and those who live south of the River Thames (a warm city-wide joke), it refuses to acknowledge what Soho has become. And mostly because if the filmmakers did so, it would render the plot of the movie obsolete. Wright has regularly said the film is his dark tribute to Soho — a place he said he has spent the majority of his 25 years in London (he was born and raised on the south coast like his main character). But with his image of contemporary Soho one is forced to ponder, does he really know the city at all?
Bottom Line: Despite its shortcomings, ‘Last Night in Soho’ is Edgar Wright’s most ambitious film
Near the middle of “Last Night in Soho” there is a twist that shocked me far more than any of the others. Of course, I won’t detail what happens, but as it unfolded I thought to myself: “Did Edgar Wright fake a feminist horror?” Yes, there is a strong political undercurrent that follows through the story, which I found clever and commendable. I suspect Krysty Wilson-Cairns had a hand in introducing this sub-plot. When discussing the twist during a press conference, Wright said: “It’s dangerous to romanticize the past.” Take that as a hint to what I might be referencing.
Now, there are limits to how far Wright goes with this commentary, and the film pulls back before any interesting conclusions or questions can be asked, but it is still a refreshing and daring new layer to Wright’s work. His pulpy, all guns blazing formula is tried and tested. It brought him acclaim in the UK with cult classics like “Shaun of The Dead” and more recently in Hollywood with “Baby Driver,” and I’ve been a big fan of it all. But there is a time when all artists must find some new gears. If not, things can get boring.
What time could be better than now for Wright who, in his previous films, has shown he is adept at depicting apocalyptic disaster.
“Last Night in Soho” is set to be released on October 29, 2021.