It’s easy to reminisce on the older periods of civilization and the thrill of the Swinging ’60s in London is front and centre in Last Night in Soho, the latest from director Edgar Wright.
Neon drenched and fashion-focused, the film centres on Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a lover of the decade who wishes she was alive during that time. Moving to London as a fashion student, she rents a room in an old building in Soho where reality and her imagination collide in an exciting and deadly way one night.
Here, she transforms into Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), living her glamorous life as she hopes to become a star with the help of her seedy manager (Matt Smith) who both idolizes her and sexualizes her as was of the time.
Eloise takes inspiration from her experience and begins creating a fashion line based on this incredible woman she embodied that night and begins looking and dressing like her in the modern-day. But soon as Sandie learns more about the dangerous and unsafe underbelly of Soho, Eloise’s dreams become darker and soon a vision she sees shakes her sense of what happened to Sandie and leads her to her own investigation around her disappearance.
Taylor-Joy is a delight in the role, singing her own version of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” in a glorious scene and encompassing what it means to be a confident and fame-seeking young woman at a time when the opportunities were limited and difficult decisions made. She suits the period piece well and her more expressive moments are relatable for the audience.
McKenzie also owns her role, though at times overacts and doesn’t necessarily ground the film. Her personality changes as she learns more about Sandie and begins to embody her own confidence in her real life.
The main issue in the film is the uneven story and conclusion, in which characters do unusual things and the eventual reveal feels unnecessary and erases the pleasure of the earlier minutes of the film. Where a statement could have been made about life as a woman during the 1960s, the story moves towards a murder mystery and manhunt that feels inconsistent with everything prior.
Wright clearly wanted to make a point that ultimately misses the mark and makes the film feel entirely pointless. Despite the best intentions of the cast, with particular note to Diana Rigg’s final film performance, the story undermines their best efforts and erases their input. If you can look past the reveal or leave the film early, there is a good story in there somewhere. Somewhere in Soho.