If you can remember the Sixties, you were never there. So they say. Although, once you see what’s hidden behind the Swinging Sixties veneer in Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho, you might thank your lucky stars you weren’t around when England – London especially – was the place to be.
Fashion student Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) leaves home in the depths of Cornwall for the bright lights of London, but the late nights, boozy parties and the bitchiness of her roommate isn’t for her. She ups sticks in favour of a small bedsit presided over by strict landlady Miss Collins (Diana Rigg in her last film role). The girl is a huge fan of the 60s – the music, the fashion, the make up – and finds herself somehow transported back to the period, specifically into the life of aspiring singer and good time girl Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). And, as she watches how Sandie’s life and ambitions take a downward slide, the decade she once idolised starts to be invaded by violence and fear.
If you’re expecting the Edgar Wright of the Cornetto trilogy, or even the more recent Baby Driver, you’re in for a surprise. The Sparks Brothers, his previous offering, was a documentary about the eccentric 70s band and marked a move away from films featuring his favourite acting mates, lots of banter and quotable lines. Baby Driver had held on to a few of his trademarks and they creep into Last Night In Soho as well. Synchronising the action on screen with the music in the soundtrack – in this case, Sixties classics from the likes of Cilla Black and Barry Ryan – and crisp editing are still there but everything else has been swept aside as he ventures into thriller/horror territory, something he’d have happily parodied ten years ago. His usual flashiness isn’t there, but his re-creation of the 60s absolutely reeks of the decade. He even goes so far as to include British acting icons from the decade – Rigg (Emma Peel from TV’s The Avengers), Rita Tushingham (A Taste Of Honey) and Terence Stamp (Far From The Madding Crowd). There’s a style and elegance to it, as there is to the Soho that Wright clearly loves and which hardly seems to have changed over the years.
All of which makes for a first half that’s immersive, involving and packed with authentic retro in affectionate hands. Wright also has some fun at the audience’s expense, steering them in clearly marked directions and then slamming a brick wall in their face. But ultimately it all leads into a second half that meanders downhill, and loses its sense of direction entirely. Instead of culminating in an explosive climax, it’s more of a damp squib that comes with that dreaded feeling of being let down. The film’s weaknesses become all the more apparent – Matt Smith never has the chance to play anything more than one note – and it’s left to Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy to keep everything afloat. Thankfully they’re more than up to the task.
The sad thing about Last Night In Soho is that it simply fails to live up to our expectations. What makes that feeling more acute is that, for the first half, you believe it’ll genuinely go the distance. Everything points to that – the performances, the style, the narrative – but it simply doesn’t have the substance. And by the end, it’s perilously close to being more so-so than Soho.
Horror, Thriller | Cert:15 | London Film Festival, 9,10,15 October | UK Cinemas 29 October | Universal | Dir. Edgar Wright | Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp.