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Last Night in Soho is a wild trip in time and mind.

The Girl in the Mirror

Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise
Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise

Edgar Wright is one of those rare directors who can take moviegoers on a journey in which they don’t really know where they’re being taken until they get there. And when they get there — with a concierge awaiting their arrival — it’s quite sensational.

Wright collaborated with Simon Pegg on what is now affectionately referred to as the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,” a collection of otherwise unrelated features comprised of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. They’re comedies with a twist, mash-ups that don’t settle for the usual.

Similarly, Last Night in Soho starts off oh so whimsically with a girl dancing to the beat of ‘60s hits in her grandmother’s home. Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit) is an innocent, an aspiring fashion designer about to embark on a big adventure. She’s leaving the comforts of home and entering the thrilling world of dorm life at the University of the Arts in London.

Wright uses the setup to create an upbeat atmosphere, one of hope for a big future and a fanciful life set to the best beats of the ‘60s. Maybe something like Cruella or an update on Mean Girls. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for Eloise to realize she has the wrong roommate who’s traveling in the wrong clique.

Taking swift action, Eloise finds and rents a bedroom from an elderly woman, Ms. Collins. That’s the legendary Diana Rigg — Miss Peel in The Avengers (the spy series, not to be confused with the Marvel comics) and Mrs. Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This marks Rigg’s final performance; she died in 2020 after production wrapped and the movie’s dedicated in her memory.

What a casting coup to have Rigg in this movie that’s a salute to the 1960s — both the good and the bad — as well as a fresh spin on the psychological thriller that was Hitchcock’s bread and butter back in the day.

Got My Mind Set on You

Last Night in Soho is a cinematic treat — the kind that’s full of surprises, so going in “cold” is the ideal state. So much so, even Wright made the request ahead of the movie’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival. “We purposely pushed the film back to this autumn date, not just so that it can hopefully be enjoyed on the biggest screen possible, but also so the nights would be longer and the audience could go in cold... literally.” Ultimately, what happens in Last Night in Soho should stay in Soho.

More than happy to honor that request. The beauty of it is, there’s so much to consider, even without discussing the movie’s numerous twists and turns.

Thomasin McKenzie is a great place to start. This is a star-making turn, following up on her smaller role in M. Night Shyamalan’s Old. Complementing the decades of experience behind Rigg’s performance, McKenzie’s is a fresh face. She is so perfectly cast, it’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling off the role’s complexities with the same panache.

As Eloise, she’s wide-eyed and excited about the prospects of her new life in London. It certainly seems as though Last Night in Soho will go the route of the coming-of-age storyline as Eloise faces a crazy old world much bigger than the one she knew back home. Eloise sees and feels things differently and that’s grounds for her grandmother to have concerns. After all, Eloise’s mother died by suicide when she was seven and Eloise didn’t really get to know her dad.

Eloise is a sympathetic character, one worth rooting for as she enters this new life and finds all sorts of inspirations that fuel her designs — and the envy of the mean girls. It’s such a promising start for a small-town girl’s first time in the big city.

Are You Present?

The breeziness of those opening scenes slowly gives way to a richly textured storyline.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie
Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie

There’s Eloise’s first love interest, John (Michael Ajao, Attack the Block), but there’s also this girl who becomes a recurring character in Eloise’s dreams. That’s Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit). And there’s this creepy old guy at the pub where Eloise has taken a job to fund her developing lifestyle and independence. He’s played by yet another screen legend in the cast, Terence Stamp (Superman II).

Sandie becomes a sort of muse as Eloise lives vicariously through the ‘60s blonde’s dreams of becoming a superstar on the musical stage. But, without fail, just as things heat up (particularly in the fantasy romance department), the alarm goes off at 8:00 sharp, pulling Eloise back into reality.

The details of those dreams can be striking, particularly as Eloise begins to note their connection with the reality of the environment surrounding her. But, as with any dream, the details start to blur and the separating out of who’s who and what’s what becomes quite the challenge for Eloise, especially after she wakes up with a very real hickey.

And there’s little comfort to be had from the landlady, who shares some cold, harsh observations with Eloise. It becomes a recurring theme that “London can be a lot.”

So Brave

Diana Rigg as the landlady
Diana Rigg as the landlady

Wright pulls all these threads — pardon the fashion pun — together so skillfully, so slickly.

Consider how a key sequence unfolds.

It starts with Eloise and John’s “sorta” first date, it’s a Halloween party at a popular night spot. They’re already wearing black outfits and, since it’s the last minute, some face paint will do to top off their impromptu costumes. The black makeup around Eloise’s eyes plays so gorgeously off Thomasin’s naturally wide-eyed look. Throw in a nightmare about a grisly murder, an angry landlady, recurring doubts fueled by Eloise’s family history of mental illness, a little bit of alcohol and a broken mirror.

All those elements serve as the ingredients to the perfect cocktail of movie magic, mixed together in a masterful piece of storytelling thanks to Wright and screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917).

But that alone is not the end game for Wright and Wilson-Cairns. As Eloise’s reality and fantasy begin to blur, some very real parallels between life in the ‘60s and today begin to surface. It’s not just a clash of fashion and musical sensibilities, but also of deeply ingrained behaviors that spur societal shifts.