Last Night In Soho (TBC)
We romanticise the past at our peril; it can take us to places we don’t want to go. That is the message of British director Edgar Wright’s brilliant film, Last Night In Soho, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday.
Wright made his name with the so-called ‘Cornetto trilogy’ of comedies (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End).
But he has since made a terrific action thriller, 2017’s Baby Driver, and now proves himself a master of psychological horror as Last Night in Soho exerts a fierce grip from the start and never lets go.
We romanticise the past at our peril; it can take us to places we don’t want to go. That is the message of British director Edgar Wright’s brilliant film, Last Night In Soho, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday. Pictured: Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Msith in Last Night in Soho
Not only that, but the film affords us our last look at the glorious Diana Rigg, who died aged 82 shortly after completing her work on the film, and also has parts for veterans Terence Stamp, 83, and Rita Tushingham, 79. Indeed Sixties iconography is everywhere in this movie, including the cast list.
But it begins in the present day, in a bedroom in Cornwall.
Ellie (the New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie, making a decent fist of her West Country vowels) is dancing to A World Without Love, the 1964 song by Peter and Gordon.
A whisk around the room shows us that she’s in love with the Swinging Sixties. And her dearest wish is to move to London to study fashion, so that she might one day follow in the footsteps of Mary Quant. A letter arrives. Thrillingly, Ellie has been accepted into a fashion college on the edge of Soho.
Her grandmother (Tushingham) is thrilled too but warns her, ‘London can be a lot’. It was too much for Ellie’s mother, who died of suicide years earlier.
Not only that, but the film affords us our last look at the glorious Diana Rigg (pictured), who died aged 82 shortly after completing her work on the film
Part of Ellie’s motivation is to make her dead mother proud. But gran was right – London can be a lot. A lecherous cab driver is her first taste of city life and soon her country mouse ways are being mocked by her fellow students, led by her spiteful, entitled roommate, Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen).
So unworldly, impressionable Ellie moves into a nearby rooming house owned by elderly Miss Collins (Rigg), who calls her ‘dearie’ and seems like a better bet than Jocasta.
That night, Ellie dreams vividly of the Sixties. She is whisked to the Cafe de Paris, where Cilla Black is in cabaret. There, she acquires a kind of alter ego – an aspiring nightclub singer called Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, superb), whose own dreams start coming true when a roguish charmer (Matt Smith) gets her an audition. She gives a marvellously sexy performance of Downtown. Sandie is on her way.
Back in the real world, these visions inspire Ellie to design clever retro dresses; she too is on her way. She has one nice classmate (Michael Ajao), who fancies her rotten. But Wright – who co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns – has a series of shocks in store, for her and for us.
As Sandie’s life becomes a nightmare, so does Ellie’s. She becomes haunted by Sandie, who, she is convinced, lived in the very house in which she is renting a room
It turns out that Soho in the Sixties didn’t swing, it suppurated. Sexual predators didn’t even lurk in the shadows, they operated in the open. Through an ever-present fug of cigarette smoke, the threat of violence shimmered.
As Sandie’s life becomes a nightmare, so does Ellie’s. She becomes haunted by Sandie, who, she is convinced, lived in the very house in which she is renting a room.
Visions of a long-ago murder, to which the key appears to be a louche old man (Stamp) who drinks in the pub where Ellie works, lead her to the police. Just like her gran, they tell her ‘London can be a lot’.
Repeated several times, it is practically the film’s maxim, maybe reflecting the experiences of the director, who grew up in sleepy Wells, Somerset.
Well, this captivating film, too, is a lot. The ending is perhaps a little overwrought, with Wright reaching for horror movie tropes a bit too enthusiastically but it is ingeniously, excitingly done from start very nearly to finish – with a Sixties soundtrack, and let me choose my words carefully, to die for.
Last Night In Soho opens in UK cinemas on October 29.