Last Night In Soho
“When you're alone and life is making you lonely/ You can always go/ Downtown/ When you've got worries all the noise and the hurry/ Seems to help I know/ Downtown”*- this is familiar to everyone who has ever been to London or to a big city where the neon lights and the buzz of the crowds are enough to lift off all the worries and drape a magical curtain over one’s head. Magical but deceiving and sharp-toothed, for London can be both a blessing and a curse, an illusory phantasma where fame and richness seem at the tip of your fingers. It was a wonderful experience to watch the film in London and then walk through Soho, continuously telling my partner “I know where this bit was filmed”, “I know where Sandy’s address is”.
“Last Night in Soho” expertly crafts this image of a place where people go to be someone else and something more, it recreates the microcosm of West London. Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, “Jojo Rabbit”, “The King”) moves to London with the hopes of becoming a household name in fashion design. She travels with her grandma’s records from the 60s, a seemingly present dead mother, and a hefty bag of nostalgia for what she sees were the best years.
Once in London, she doesn’t have it easy, but grows into her own and is capable of taking her own decisions and navigating the capital. By day. By night, she travels to the 60s, experiences glamour and “meets” what surely seems like a young star in the making, Alexandra “Sandy” Collins (Anya Taylor-Joy, “Split”, “The Queen’s Gambit”). Sandy can dance, Sandy can sing and Sandy should really know better… The audience is taken on a journey by Taylor-Joy’s crystalline voice performing a rendition of “Downtown” by Petula Clark. Taylor-Joy plays Sandy with such vulnerability and flair, there were many times where I wanted to merge with McKenzie’s character, burst through the silver screen to hug Sandy and protect her from any danger that might befall her.
In come Matt Smith (“The Crown”, “Doctor Who”) portraying Jack, seductive manager of aspiring stars, and the late Dame Diana Rigg (“Game of Thrones”, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) who plays Eloise’s landlady, a peculiar character who lets her bedsit only to women. Director Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”, “Shaun of the Dead”) and co-screenwriter Kirsty Wilson-Cairns (“1917”, “Penny Dreadful”) build a core story which shows that too much nostalgia can be dangerous and that blasts from the past can really hurt.
“Last Night in Soho” is not without fault. It can be uneven at times, although there are certain moments that are punctuated as they deserve to be and where if you listen you can hear the audience holding their breath. The screenplay is focused on unravelling Sandy’s story through Eloise’s eyes and less so on the present time where Eloise is trying to build a life and a name for herself. The film is not coherent, but that doesn’t matter. You go in to get a story, to be emotionally enchanted and to spend two hours forgetting “all of your worries”*, which is what you get.
Just like in a Rembrandt painting where the less important characters and storylines are painted with fewer details, the side story of the present moment is muddled and grey, while Sandy’s spirit from the past bursts through the screen with an explosion of colours and splatters of blood.
It was a pleasure to watch this film and to see Taylor-Joy and McKenzie give it all, I thoroughly recommend you watch it and go in with an open mind.
*Lyrics from “Downtown”, written by Tony Hatch and performed by Petula Clark in the 60s and Anya Taylor-Joy in “Last Night in Soho”
P.S. I may or may not have been a background artiste in this one :-)