Last Night in Soho (2021)

Trigger warning: This review delves into various aspects of Last Night in Soho, including its depiction of sexual assault and rape.

Edgar Wright’s latest film Last Night in Soho had its premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival and has undoubtedly been one of the most discussed films of the year so far due to its eclectic merging of genres and time periods. The film follows aspiring fashion designer, Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) as she moves to London to study fashion design at the London College of Fashion. Not everything is so simple though as Ellie is able to see the ghost of her mother in mirrors and when she moves into a bedsit after her stay in student halls go wrong, she begins to see visions of a young woman called, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her struggle to become a famous singer in 1960s London. What follows is a film filled with many twists and turns until Ellie begins to lose her sense of self as the past begins to catch up with her and she finds herself at the heart of a mystery that explores darker and timely subject matters such as sexual assault, loss, and treatment of women.

The film is directed by Edgar Wright who cowrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The film is filled with Wright’s signature flair and use of vibrant colors. However, where a lot of Wright’s previous films are filled to the brim with larger than life characters, there aren’t as many in Last Night in Soho. This could be because the film dives into much darker territory than others and doesn’t have the same level of humour. A lot of the controversy generated from Last Night in Soho is with regards to the writing and it’s clear that Wright and Wilson-Cairns have tried to use the paradox between periods to discuss sexual assault but it doesn’t feel as though the script delves deep enough into the trauma and psyche of the victim while explicitly showing various scenes of abuse and rape. To see such an unflinching depiction of sexual violence against a female character has caused a lot of understandable upset amongst victims and the level of upset could be because the script doesn’t do a lot to delve deeper into the mentality and characterisation of the female characters as it could have done.

Thomasin McKenzie plays the film’s lead, Ellie, and it’s great to see her star on the rise as she has provided such brilliant performances previously. McKenzie does what she can with the character but it doesn’t feel as though Ellie’s character is fleshed out enough which is unfortunate as McKenzie is a fantastic actress. On the surface, it can seem that Ellie simply has visions and then subsequently runs around screaming but there is obviously something a lot deeper going on. It could be argued that her mental health has taken a toll since the loss of her mother and it would have been so interesting to see the screenplay delve into this aspect a bit more so we could understand Ellie better. Even though she is the protagonist, Ellie is an observer and an outsider in her own world and the world of the 1960s. When she is dreaming, she is lurking on the edges of the frame as she enters Sandie’s world whereas in her own life, she is an outcast among her peers and cannot seem to fit in anywhere. It feels as though the film happens around Ellie and we don’t see her character develop as much as it should do through the film’s two hour running time.

The highlight of the film is Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie, the woman Ellie observes in the 1960s. From the moment Sandie enters the film in a flowing pink chiffon dress with her hair in a bouffant style, the film begins to find its momentum. Taylor-Joy is absolutely electric as Sandie and is arguably the film’s heartbeat and keeps the audience gripped. Sandie is an aspiring singer who befriends manager, Jack (Matt Smith), who promises her the world so long as she stays by his side. What follows is a downwards spiral where Sandie is taken advantage of at the hands of many men thanks to Jack’s greed and lust for control. Even in the film’s darkest moments, it is Taylor-Joy’s sincere portrayal of Sandie that lets the audience into the world that the film inhabits and wanting to know how the story ends.

Another small but great performance is provided by the late, great Diana Rigg as Ellie’s landlady, Ms Collins. As mentioned, it is only a small role but she fills it with such intrigue that when she is onscreen, she grabs the attention. Her final scene in which she confides in Ellie is brilliant and highly intense, showing that you don’t need bells and whistles for great characterisation whilst also boasting the flawless subtleties when reflecting on her previous scenes.

Another highlight of the film is the original score by Steven Price which highlights the horror tones of the film. A lot of the tracks feel reminiscent of horror films from 1960s and its clear that this is what Price wanted to convey. It is the score that provides the dark undertone throughout the whole film and leaves the audience in anticipation, especially as the visions start to take place and the puzzle begins to piece itself together.

Last Night in Soho is a difficult film to discuss due to its subject matter and the way this is handled. It is clear that it has been made with good intentions but whether it is successful in what it is trying to say is another thing. There are aspects of Last Night in Soho that are great such as Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance and Steven Price’s score but the overall tone of the film feels conflicted and confused, especially as Ellie’s characterisation doesn’t feel completely realised. Last Night in Soho is a departure from Wright’s other films and although it doesn’t have the same spark as his previous outings, it will be interesting to see where his career goes next.

What did you think of Last Night in Soho? Let me know in the comments below!

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