Last Night in Soho - The film
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Last Night In Soho: Reaching Back With Love

In Edgar Wright’s ‘Last Night in Soho’ we are transported back in time to the 1960s, an era the wide-eyed protagonist ‘Eloise’ – played by fittingly ingenuous Thomasin McKenzie – was already obsessed with even before she found herself in the middle of the swinging London. The film stirs the mythicised 60s and the delusional freedom imposed in films and media of the time in a pot of Giallo-esque horror, woeful sentimentality and the dazzle of the nightlife. 

Last night in Soho explained

When we first meet our hopeful protagonist Eloise, her room is decorated with a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ poster with Holly Golightly smiling at her. The pre-eminent Holly Golightly of the 60’s! A woman we all aspire to be in a metropolitan city, an emblem of independence, a perfect urban woman. And I mean if you were naive enough you’d never truly detect all the means of Holly Golightly’s way of life.

But even with the knowledge of her profession, Holly Golightly stays an icon to aspire to be, she seems in control of everything, she knows what she wants and she gets it. Enchanted with such ideals of free-spirited femininity of the 60s Eloise has no option but to be captivated by ‘Sandie’ – played by the rising star Anya Taylor Joy -, the swinging ghost of the swinging London.  

Let us look at all the promises inspired by the media of the era; the editorial campaigns with Twiggy standing taller than the buildings next to her, and powerful portrayals of femininity drawn around London with Bond girls, a dewy-eyed youth can easily assume swinging London was full of ambitious women with visible knickers, shimmery makeup and flexible sexuality.

That these girls when they walked around with their platform boots were the ones pulling the strings of men and not the other way around. But the freedom the media creates was just an illusion to keep producing sex kittens capable of keeping up with the radicalised and loosened BBFC practices.

Many filmmakers were too fascinated by the premise of using sex in their creations, they forgot to regard feminine reality and the loss of female perspective in the industry – financers were simply suspicious of the film-making abilities of women – only added to this ignorance of perspective. 

And our mystifying Sandie is a vessel to carry that serious sex-kitten energy, that is created by male filmmakers with the era’s notable provocative actresses such as Shirley Eaton, Julie Christie, Susannah York and honestly all the Bond girls (from the poster of ‘Thunderball’ Sean Connery looks over at Eloise when she fnds her transported to the night of 1965).

Sandie carries what is essential to a Bond girl, she’s smart (a Bond girl is always smart enough to know that she should not use her sexual freedoms with any other men than Bond himself), she’s beautiful (a Bond girl is beautiful even in her death, covered with gold), she’s alluring but all the Bond girls of the 60s walk on a tightrope, if they’re too sexual they get dispatched if they’re too assertive they’re discharged.

Last Night in Soho scene

And Sandie is always under the danger of becoming too – aggressive, assertive, ambitious -, because under all her glamour and glitz she is nothing but a realistic portrayal of femininity, we all know it is impossible to walk on the tight-rope of what’s deemed ideal (after all idealisation rhymes with delusion) feminine. Edgar Wright twists the sex kitten figure of the era with the perspective of his co-writer Kristy Wilson-Cairns perfectly and gives us a palpable character. What we see in Sandie is what is beyond the posters of micro-skirted blondes. 

In the 60s screen, we see women divided into two archetypes; they are either the sacred maiden (safe but boring) or as coquettes (amorous but heartless), in his film Wright – with the help of wonderful costume department – to fades these two generalised stereotypes into each other and into real personalities, on the one hand, we have Eloise she is everything but boring and on the other hand Sandie is doing everything from her heart.

The way characters fade into each other in their qualities is an important aspect of Last Night in Soho, experiencing the nights of Sandie through Eloise’s eye, transcending from the point of view of the archetypal naive maiden, we plunge into the real life of a sexual playmate archetype. 

The visuals perfectly merge the exuberance of the 1960s pop look with the Giallo neons. And when you add all the signifiers of 1960s films about coming to London; Eloise takes the train to London – something reminiscent of ‘Smashing Time’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and also many exploitation films of the time -, only her train is quite modern.

Edgar Wright loves his material and shows this love through the use of perfect imagery, but it is not only pure admiration there’s a sense of sorrow too. 

And although Last Night in Soho could be viewed like a daydream Wright meditates upon afterwards binge-watching 60s films, Wright handles the realities of the time with jubilation and understanding, The film is almost a homage to all the women who suffered when the word entertainment led both into dark alleyways and to glimmering screens.

So the story as a horror is quite an enchanting portrayal of being haunted. Last Night in Soho draws its horrifying aspect from the enchantment, not from the murders or the gore. We see Eloise not being scared at the first sight of her ghost; her admiration for the ghosts tightens the connection between them, the horror comes not from the ghosts themselves but from being unable to help.

The horror of being haunted can only intensify if you love your ghost. There’s a tangible caring love at the core of Last Night in Soho. Wright loves the story, and every time Eloise wrapped her arms around Sandie or gently tapped her shoulder. I’d like to imagine these are Wright’s arms trying to reach through the haunting screens of cinema into the harsh life of women instead of Eloise’s.

The love that is felt makes all the difference, what’s art anyway if not a means to give love to those you cannot.