The story of a murder in 1960s London finally gets solved in 2021 by the most unlikely people
Last Night in Soho, the latest film by Edgar Wright hit cinemas last week on the 29th of October 2021. Mainly set in London in the present day as well as in the 1960’s, the audience follows the story of Ellie (Eloise) Turner, played by Thomasin McKenzie, (and John, played by Michael Ajao, her love interest), as she moves to London to study fashion at University. She is in awe of London in the 60s and ends up moving into the spare room of a landlady (who is anonymous for most of the film) who has lived in London for her whole life. Ellie starts having dreams set in the 1960s, following the story of Sandy (a talented singer played by Anya-Taylor Joy) and her agent and boyfriend, Jack (played by Matt Smith). Ellie discovers a murder that happened in the 1960’s and sets out to solve it whatever it takes and no matter who believes her or not.
The film raises some modern points that might not have been intentional, but based on the current situation in the world (and in the last few years), are important. The first one is about London not being ‘safe’ for women at night. This can be seen throughout the film by comments made by the character, Lindsey (he is often seen as being a creepy, old man who follows Ellie etc. and is also nicknamed Handsy, by the other bar staff) and even by the taxi driver at the beginning who waits outside the shop that Ellie diverts into to get away from him. The other is about race. There are few people of colour in either the modern day or the 60s elements of the film, and even when there is a POC character, such as John, he is stabbed in a scene, which could be quite political and relevant to modern day issues in society, especially in terms of stabbing being on the increase in the UK.
Last Night in Soho explores the topic of mental health well, in my opinion. Ellie is often seen panicking, being unable to focus on other activities, having nightmares when bad things happen to Sandy in her dreams, hallucinating faceless male figures throughout the duration of the film and being on edge and scared constantly. The audience discovers that Ellie’s mum killed herself when she was a child, and that it seems she too has struggled with mental health issues in the past, with comments her grandmother (and primary caretaker) makes about it ‘getting bad again’. We see Ellie go to extreme lengths because of the hallucinations, almost stabbing someone in the library with a pair of scissors. The film also explores rape and forced sexual activities in scenes featuring Sandy in the 1960’s, as the only way for her to get famous. This is seen specifically in a scene in the club with the other performers, as well in flashback scenes in her bedroom, making this film more than just a fictional story about a girl who manages to go back to the 1960s magically.
The casting directors Nina Gold and Martin Ware did a really good job at casting this film, in my opinion. The talent that was shown in a variety of scenes make it a must watch. McKenzie did a great job at being the leading lady, especially for an actress so young and new to the international industry at least (doing a few projects in her home country of New Zealand as well as having a leading role in the 2019 film, JoJo Rabbit). She portrayed the emotions that Ellie was feeling well and realistically, and helped to put the audience into Ellie’s shoes, feeling the fear and anger that Ellie did as well as the anxiety and worry as she tried to discover what happened to Sandy as well as living in her life in the present and the hallucinations she was experiencing. I really liked the characterisation and portrayal that Ajao showed in playing John. He showed a softer and caring side to masculinity, with genuine concern for Ellie, while also not ignoring or disbelieving her stories and was still very protective over her, ultimately leading to his stabbing, but all the while, all he cared for in that scene was that Ellie got away as he was bleeding almost to death on the landing. His range to express emotions were completely utilised in this film by the script and it really showed and worked well, in my opinion. Taylor-Joy’s performance alongside Smith’s but also in stand-alone scenes, is fantastic. Adding suspense to the 60s, that continued to engage the audience and kept me interested, trying to guess what would happen at every twist, but the final twist was one that was done brilliantly, and I didn’t see coming. The acting in these final scenes where Diana Rigg plays an older Sandy is just as fantastic and dramatic as Taylor-Joy’s performance and interpretation.
As well as the casting being great, the use of camera shots really intrigued me. Lots of the scenes involved mirrors, which from a film making point of view, is hard to film opposite, as the reflections reflect the crew. The story also involved the use of mirrors to show the parallels of the present day, alongside the 1960s, often having Ellie and Sandy both or interchangeably in the same setting and using the same mirror as a reflection. This is most noticeably used in the bar scenes on multiple occasions, but one of my favourites is when they are coming down the stairs during a performance by Sandy in the 1960’s, with the mirror being smashed. Another is when Ellie is seen as using the mirror to ‘speak’ to Sandy, and she can’t seem to reach Sandy as much as she would like too, making for an extremely emotional scene where Ellie knows what danger is about to happen but is unable to do anything.
Overall, this film was great to view in the magic of the cinema, but I found that no matter how much I enjoyed it, it did end up being unmemorable. Once I left the cinema screening, the film got lost in my brain and I didn’t think about it again until writing this review. That being said, it is definitely a great film to view with an interesting story that will keep you hooked for the whole two hours it’s on, and the acting by the main cast is really emotionally strong. I would love to see this cast again in a different film, as they play off each other well and connect with the audience. However, this is just my opinion. I would probably recommend that people go and view it themselves before making a judgement, but will I be viewing it again? Unfortunately, probably not.