Last Night in Soho

Edgar Wright has come quite some way from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. He certainly isn’t doing light comedies with the great and the good from the last two decades of British sitcoms anymore. (Although Last Night in Soho does have Mrs Doyle from Father Ted in it.) This, his latest movie, is more from the guy who wrote and directed the the scene where Shaun has to shoot his mum perhaps, than the bloke who had the same character spouting pop culture references and deadpan one liners.

This said, he is still a film maker who knows and loves cinematic genres and who plays with these within his own stories. Also, while he may not be recruiting the likes of Martin Freeman, Bill Bailey, Reece Shearsmith, Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton anymore, he does cast Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham and Terence Stamp which references the classics of 60s cinema and TV that he is homaging here. I am sure, having previously worked with Timothy Dalton and Pearce Brosnan, he’d have loved to have had Connery or Moore in this one if he could.

This new film is also stylised and non-naturalistic to some extent but not to the level that we saw from Wright eight to ten years ago. There is cliche in his script and plotting but only just as much as his knowing adherence to cinematic tropes demands.

Last Night in Soho does feel like a departure for Edgar Wright then, even after the more conventional, but oh so well designed and slick, Baby Driver. This is a violent and atmospheric ghost story with a maturity the likes of which we’ve not seen from him before. There are threads you can trace through all of his work but this does show a director walking an interesting new path, albeit in the same type of shoes.

The movie follows Ellie, who after a traumatic event in her childhood that she has largely come to terms with, has certain supernatural sensitivities. These are majorly agitated though when she moves from Cornwall to London to become a fashion student and long gone events that have taken place in an around her flat start to haunt her. At first this is exciting as in her dreams she follows the life of a beautiful young singer who sought a career in the 60s but soon things turn dark and her visions start to escape her sleeping hours.

This is Wright’s first female protagonist and rather than assuming he can author this himself he has collaborated with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who was Oscar nominated for the screenplay to Sam Mendes’ 1917. This was wise because it’s not just that Ellie is a woman; she is also at the heart of a deeply feminist parable. Last Night in Soho is a horror film where the monster is not just another regular boogeyman but the spectre of a beastly chauvinist patriarchy. Sandie, the woman from the past, fell victim to sexual assault and because society did not challenge this at the time, now Ellie in our time is haunted by these encounters herself. What Wright and Wilson-Cairns have created is a deeply contemporary film, dressed up in the paraphernalia of sixty years ago and the metaphor sits easy just under the surface.

The deeper meaning is extended in ways I won’t discuss too much more here for fear of giving away the ending. I will just say that when it looks like the narrative is steering away from its condemnation of the men in Sandie’s life, and a little toward demonisation of certain other parties it then closes on a moment of bold female solidarity and the message that strong women live on in those that follow them. Some people have rejected this denouement, not I think because of the feminism, but I believe it might actually be perfect, precisely because of the feminism.

My reading will only really make sense if you’ve seen the film but then you should watch it. Even without digging into the message it is a wonderfully shot and designed movie with great performances from Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, both of who push themselves beyond their already impressive filmographies. Matt Smith is also good in a role that suits his demeanour (and his hair) perfectly. For a guy that is famous for playing one of UK TVs most benevolent characters, he is doing a nice line in baddies. The consciously old fashioned sensibilities may not result in the best depiction of mental health, in being a throw back it is not always forward thinking, but this film is mostly a brilliantly crafted celebration of cinema and storytelling, old and new.

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