Last Night in Soho – London Film Festival 2021 – Film Review

Last Night in Soho is that enchanting, immersive, neon-lit, pulsating journey traversing 1960s London and a modern day London fuelled by the conflicting dreams and nightmares of the young. The film transports the viewers into the swinging 1960s London literally and figuratively with a toe tapping soundtrack and an exposure to that seedy past of Soho and its horrors. But this is where the film falters as, despite its strength in being visually stunning, the film suffers from an uneven tone particularly evident towards its finale.

That is not to say that Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho is not riveting. The film charts the development of Eloise who has a penchant for nostalgic items, in a standout performance from Thomasin McKenzie, as she transcends from being a naive young lady, from a small town with dreams of success as a fashion designer in the Big Smoke, to an innovative fashion designer. Last Night in Soho would have preferably landed better if this ‘makeover’ premise and concept of duality had continued in the same vein with its trajectory.  Eloise is susceptible to visions and her attempts to control and understand such visions is an intriguing concept, at times amusing, alongside her being the proverbial ‘fish out of water’. Last Night in Soho’s major flaw is that its themes are muddled. The film builds up the tension by embracing modern day ambitions combined with a ghost story but then discards such compelling elements to veer into predictable, crime drama territory which belies the thrilling set-up previously encountered.

Thomasin McKenzie in Last Night in Soho
Thomasin McKenzie in Last Night in Soho

London certainly looks exciting through Eloise’s eyes with a vibrant Oxford Street alongside the beautifully lit streets of Fitzrovia and Soho in this ode to London. It is always delightful, as a Londoner, to recognise London’s landmarks and streets within film and Wright’s admiration of iconic venues such as its cinemas, nightclubs and the Toucan pub are engaging to be immersed within. A poster on a Soho cinema of the James Bond film Thunderball is a thoughtfully poignant connection from Wright to the late Diana Rigg as Last Night in Soho was her final onscreen role. It is moments such as this, with those personal touches, where Last Night in Soho excels and shines to its full potential.

As such, Wright has created a tale that fully celebrates ‘downtown’ not least with a haunting rendition of the song by Anya Taylor-Joy. The song’s inclusion within the film in a variety of forms creates both a sense of familiarity and one of dread in connection with Soho’s lurid past. The cinematography is also superb in this sense, as London looks dazzling in one scene and gritty in another with dark alleys and that red glow bathing the former red light district of Soho. Plus, as Eloise’s visions immerse her within the life of the enigmatic but irresistible Sandy, played with verve by Taylor-Joy, the camerawork with quick edits criss-crossing between their lives and a thrilling use of mirrors intertwining their lives, is delightful to watch. Last Night in Soho is an intoxicating assault on the senses with its tale of self-discovery and exploration of London’s sinister underbelly which exerts its hold on the young to their detriment.

Anya Taylor-Joy in Last Night in Soho
Anya Taylor-Joy in Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho highlights the allure of a glitzy London, but all that glitters is not gold within London’s fast paced, seductive lifestyle, which Wright is unafraid to explore. However, the film’s muddled approach to its genres, particularly regarding the exploitation of young ladies that unwittingly become embroiled within Soho’s former sex working trade and the levels of violence meted out towards such women, is questionable at best and therefore leaves a bitter taste in certain scenes. Noticeably, Wright does not appear to be condemning such violent acts and as such the third act of the film runs out of steam compared to the initial promise of Eloise’s arc.

Overall, Last Night in Soho is a fascinating watch which will tantalise with its impressive visuals and stylish editing choices. As a love letter to London, the film will be a delight to many and the performances of McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are enthralling. There are disturbing elements portrayed within the film which lack the level of sympathy required, perhaps due to the male gaze employed, and therefore underline the weaker moments of Last Night in Soho. However, Last Night in Soho is supported by the tremendous chemistry between McKenzie and Taylor-Joy which, alongside the nostalgic soundtrack, will ensure that this entertaining, vibrantly colourful tale will captivate audiences despite the lack of clarity in the film’s message.

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