“Last Night in Soho” is a bold and stylistically stunning movie that travels back to 1960s London to tell a cautionary tale of glamorizing a dated time. Directed by Edgar Wright and distributed by Universal Pictures, the film is dazzling and aesthetically tight, though confusing and messy in its third act. The movie follows aspiring fashion student Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) who is transported into 1960s London in a dream, where she meets ambitious singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Soon, Ellie discovers that her rosy image of the Swinging Sixties isn’t quite what she expected, as it comes back to haunt her present-day life. Caution: spoilers ahead, as well as brief mention of sexual abuse.
First, Thomasin McKenzie shines as Ellie, a soft-spoken and timid girl who moves from rural Cornwall to London’s daunting Soho district. In Cornwall, she leads a mostly
comfortable life with her grandmother, but is still shaken from the death of her mom at age seven. In the first scenes of the movie, we get a look into her room: strewn vinyl records on the floor, a big Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster, and her occasional dances to Peter and Gordon’s “A World Without Love” in a scrappy newspaper dress. All this nostalgia goes to show the extent of Ellie’s romanticization of a time that is long gone, while still looking forward to her future as a fashion designer. Thus, “Last Night in Soho”’s first act serves mainly to build character, introducing Ellie’s eccentricities and creativity. We meet her caring grandmother, annoying roommate, and the guy who has a crush on her. Unbeknownst to the viewers, the film creates an effective contrast to the madness the story later dissolves into.
Everything changes about twenty-five minutes into the movie when Ellie is first transported back in time in her dream. This sequence sees the film at the peak of its charm and interest. The song choice, Cilla Black’s “You’re My World,” combined with the yellowish tinge of the light, does a great job in capturing a 60s aesthetic. Ellie sees Sandy living the life of her dreams, dancing in the Café de Paris and starting her journey as a singer. Anya Taylor-Joy eats up every scene she is in, magnetic in her performance. The flow of the camera is hazy and dream-like, accompanying Sandie as she glides across the gorgeous dance floor, in line with her extroverted and unflinching personality. Watching Sandie, a realization sets upon her: this is everything she has ever wanted. Upon returning to the present, she overhauls her hair and closet, and starts her work on a stunning new fashion design.
Soon enough, however, Ellie’s dreams become nightmares. With every night she goes back to the past, Ellie sees the extent of the misogyny and abuse Sandie faced, from constant humiliation during her performances to being forced into sex work by her manager. Though lacking nuance as commentary, the film still handles the misogyny the characters face carefully. Using (and at times over-using) faded, blurry men with no faces as sources of horror, the film evocatively portrays what Sandie went through in pursuit of success. An apt reminder that oft-romanticized, bygone eras were often rooted in misogyny and silenced trauma, the film speaks to Ellie’s stumbles in idealizing the past.
Despite its successes, however, “Last Night in Soho” comes with minor but numerous flaws that add up that make it feel messy. One notable example is the revelation of an old man named Lindsay who is a cop that had information of Sandie’s murder. Later, Lindsay’s death arrives as he is run over with a car, a disappointing and lazy end for the character. More significantly, the characters’ actions stop having consequences. For instance, Ellie almost murders Jocasta with no repercussions. Finally, we get to the twist that happens at the end of the movie: Sandie is revealed to be Ms. Collins, Ellie’s old landlady, and she had actually killed all the men who tried to abuse her. While the reveal is in line with the theme and the genre, the character’ actions after the reveal don’t make much sense. Ms Collins tries to kill Ellie, only to end up attempting suicide after realizing the gravity of her actions. Rushed and confusing, the plot twist was thematically cohesive, but didn’t give the audience enough space to process the chaos of the third act.
In the film world, director Edgar Wright is known for his expressive and exciting work in genres such as comedy and action, and it is clear he infused the same level of energy when branching out to “Last Night in Soho.” Though not his best script, with many redundancies and a messy ending, the film is an exhilarating thriller, with a great performance by Anya Taylor-Joy and an interesting theme about not idealizing the past and the dangers of nostalgia.
“Last Night in Soho” receives a 4/5 for its aesthetic cohesion, thrilling premise, spectacular performances, despite a messy and splintered third act.