Review: Last Night In Soho holds a seance for 60s British cinema

Edgar Wright's latest applies the dream logic of Italian thrillers to its story of two young women living in London, half a century apart


LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (Edgar Wright). 116 minutes. In theatres Friday (October 29). Rating: NNNN


“Downtempo” isn’t a word I would ever have thought to apply to Edgar Wright.

The English filmmaker has long used kineticism as a kind of shorthand: his quick-cut montages of characters doing the most mundane things have become a signature and his trilogy of films with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End – all rush headlong into their very specific genre narratives. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Baby Driver are propelled by their soundtracks, their stories bouncing along to whatever the characters are playing.

The songs still drive the action in Wright’s new film, Last Night In Soho, though they’re slower and more sinister – slippery, sinewy 60s tracks by Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Peter and Gordon and a dozen more. Even when the film is set in the present day, it’s always reaching back into the darker, moodier past for inspiration.

Thomasin McKenzie (of Leave No Trace and Jojo Rabbit) stars as Eloise, a sensitive young woman freshly arrived in London to study fashion. Dormitory living proves a little busy for a country girl, so Eloise rents a room in Fitzrovia from a nice old woman (Diana Rigg), settles into bed… and finds herself somehow living the experiences of an aspiring singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) half a century earlier.

Where the story goes from there is best left undisclosed – but this movie’s more about mood than plot, anyway. Wright and co-writer Krysty Cairns-Wilson (1917) apply the dream logic of Italian giallo thrillers to Eloise’s situation, their modern protagonist haunted by Sandie’s dark trajectory.

Last Night In Soho is haunted, too; by memories of Swinging London, by the screen histories of co-stars like Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham and even Rigg (who, as it happens, co-starred in the Bond movie No Time To Die quotes most often), and by the ugliness that lurks down Soho’s alleys and under its archways. Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon moves his camera through time and space, carrying us along in its wake as Wright steers us towards the touchstones of his youth. The movie is a sort of séance for a vanished era of British cinema, reaching out to see what might still have power.

But even though Last Night In Soho evokes the past, it’s not beholden to it. It’s a modern story with old bones – and without spoiling too much, figuring out where those bones came from is the real pleasure here.

In an odd way, it feels like a fellow cinematic traveller to Peter Strickland’s In Fabric, both for the attention to costume detail and the sick sense of unspeakable dread pulling at the edges of a perfect re-creation of period attitudes and aesthetics. It’s just a shame there aren’t any seedy Soho picturehouses left to play the double bill.

@normwilner

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