An aspiring young ingenue female fashion designer, an excellent performance from newcomer Thomasin McKenzie, arrives in the Smoke from a sheltered background in Cornwall, to study at the London College of Fashion, behind Oxford Circus. She is mysteriously able to travel back to the 1960s, via a portal in her bedroom, where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, hot from her recent success as the doe-eyed chess prodigy in The Queen’s Gambit, and a West End wide boy played by Matt Smith. However, the glamour is not all it appears to be, and her dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something far darker and bloodier — it is a horror movie, after all.
To enhance the channelling of the ’60s, the film very cleverly features three actors, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp and Rita Tushingham, who first appeared on screen in that decade, and epitomised the zeitgeist of ‘Swinging London’. There is also a very strong ’60s soundtrack, featuring in particular female singers such as Sandy Shaw and Cilla Black, whose character features briefly. This soundtrack is used to impressive dramatic effect when it builds to a crescendo at key points in the film.
Denizens of Soho and Fitzrovia will recognise many of the locations in the film, as, true to its title, the main action never goes north of Fitzrovia or west of Oxford Circus. I am reliably informed by our own director of The Museum of Soho, Tony Shrimplin, that director Edgar Wright’s people reached out to his institution and other Soho establishments and property owners, when making the film. As a former resident of Goodge Place, I was delighted to see the lead character lodging at No. 8, just round the corner from my old gaff.
Apparently, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who co-wrote the screenplay, lived above Sunset Strip, on Dean Street, and worked at the Toucan Bar on Carlisle Street. This explains why the lead character works in this bar, overseen by the kindly bar manager, a touching performance by Pauline McLynn, who famously created the classic role of Mrs Doyle in the TV show Father Ted.
Parts of the plot are almost a simplistic morality tale about the young innocent discovering the inherent wickedness of the big city. In this respect it pays homage to those films of the ’50s and ’60s when Fitzrovia was known as North Soho, and the whole area was a byword for sex and seedy sedition. The film loses momentum a little in the middle but the denouement is spectacular and compensates for any earlier shortcomings. It is essentially a modern-day Hitchcock thriller — a slow burn that suddenly descends into mind games and terror. Highly recommended.
Last Night In Soho (2021) directed by Edgar Wright, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie and Matt Smith. 116 minutes. In cinemas now, and on video on demand from 19 November 2021.