Click here for the flashback interview with Edgar Wright for THE WORLD’S END.
There are many things to laud to the high heavens about Edgar Wright’s LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, an ingenious take on the ghost story set in the present and in 1960s London that endlessly surprises and delights. Let’s start, though, with the genius of casting three icons of that era: Rita Tushingham, Diana Rigg, and Terrence Stamp in significant roles. It’s emblematic of just how brilliantly thought out this homage to the Swinging 60s is. For just how clever Mr. Wright and his screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns are with psychological underpinnings, brought to vivid life with visual tricks and scathingly brilliant clues, there is nothing better than just settling in for a unique ride through personal demons and the unsettlingly clingy nature of the past.
Our heroine is village girl Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), an aspiring fashion designer with a penchant for 1960s London and the gift of seeing ghosts. When she’s accepted at the prestigious London School of the Arts, she elated. When she meets her mean-girl dorm roommate, some, but not all, of the wind is knocked out of her sails. Undeterred, she finds accommodations in Soho on a dodgy side street in a bedsitter that has remained virtually unchanged for the last 50 years. According to her new landlady, crusty with a heart of gold Mrs. Collins (Diana Rigg), it has to stay that way. Ellie also meets fellow student John (Michael Ajao), the nicest guy in the world, and attracts the unwanted attention of one of Soho’s elderly denizens, played by Stamp.
Her first night in her new digs brings a sense of relief. It also brings her an odd dream in which she is 60s glamor girl and aspiring singer, Sandie (Ana Taylor-Joy). As the nights progress, so does Sandi’s story, in which she meets Jack (Matt Smith), a talent manager who promises her the moon and protects her honor from the older men who are drawn to her like moths to a flame. The dreams gradually turn into nightmares, as Sandie finds she’s taken an unwelcome detour in her quest for stardom, and Ellie becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of Sandie’s fate as her grandmother (Tushingham) frets from Cornwall, and the ever patient, steadfastly loyal John looks on askance as Ellie so obviously begins falling apart after showing such initial promise with her 60s inspired designs. Little does he realize the depth of Ellie’s plight, which includes a dream-delivered hickey intended for Sandie.
The story itself is rife with intriguing elements, but Wright’s externalization of Ellie’s experiences in the dream world, and later in during her waking hours are cleverness itself in the service of storytelling. Slick, to be sure, but only to draw the audience further into Ellie’s reality, having her first show up as Sandie’s reflection in the mirrors at the toney Cafe de Paris, and then seamlessly alternating between the two of them spinning with an exuberant joie de vie as Jack whirls with them on the dance floor. As Ellie’s status as an observer becomes more fraught, the mirror device takes on the feeling of maddeningly impenetrable barrier with Ellie desperately trying to save Sandie from both Jack and herself, while the action takes on the internal logic of the dreams they are before the phantoms of the past invade her waking life. The visualization there of dissolute souls is stunning, present and past barely distinguished by the lack of color in the former, and the melding together of shared experiences into one entity as visceral treatise on the collective consciousness summed up in a suitably haunting visual.
I’m a fan.
McKenzie and Taylor-Jones playing two halves of the same persona are equally arresting, delivering performances that exude an emotional resonance that makes their respective loss of innocence and rock-bottom desperation even more wrenching. They sparkle, they shine, and they break your heart.
LAST NIGHT IN SOLO is dazzlingly original with twists that pack a genuine punch, and an ending that is not just solid narratively, but thematically necessary for us all to have the closure we’ve earned.