Last Night in Soho review: ‘A bone-close exploration of female trauma’
Edgar Wright’s new thriller Last Night in Soho explores two women’s relationship in the face of the predatory dangers posed by men – as pervasive now as they’ve ever been, says Terri White.
by: Terri White
2 Nov 2021
Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy live in parallel in Last Night in Soho. Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh / Focus Features
We all have our own Soho story.
What’s yours? Mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers: we’re all familiar with the words we quietly mouth, the moments and memories that are rarely, if ever, brought into the light. But, in recent years, there’s been something of a corrective offered, culturally.
Specifically, a series of searing female-created films and TV shows tackling abuse and female trauma head on, shoulders back: I May Destroy You, Promising Young Woman, The Morning Show, The Assistant. Work that shows its complexities, its messiness, its brutality, its plurality. A relief, frankly, after years of our most painful experiences, being rendered on screen by men with a too-often exploitative eye.
It’s into this landscape that Last Night in Soho steps – Edgar Wright’s new horror by way of psychological thriller starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy.
The biggest surprise isn’t that Wright has made a film with two female leads (he previously faced criticism for a lack of fully developed female characters in his films). But it turns out to be a fascinating, bone-close exploration of female trauma.
Starring Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) as Eloise, a small-town girl who moves to London to study fashion and is immediately intoxicated by the bright lights, the inflated glamour.
As she attempts to make her way in the Soho streets, she becomes psychically linked with Sandie (Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit), a wannabe-singer who trod the same alleyways in the 1960s. Sandy, like Eloise, is seduced by the promise and pomp of London, until she meets Jack (Matt Smith), a manager who morphs from charming suitor to pimp and is the first of many predators to cross the threshold of her bedroom door. As Eloise and Sandy’s lives intertwine, their realities, their identities, meld and fracture.
It’s perhaps notable that Wright didn’t write Soho alone: although he independently conceived the story over a decade ago, he co-wrote the script with Oscar nominee Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917). And it was researched by Rocks Bafta-winner Lucy Pardee, who interviewed those who lived and worked in 1960s Soho, including people in the sex industry.
This, you could suggest is at least partly why the film avoids some of the previous issues we’ve seen on screen (though we must acknowledge one scene with Eloise and Michael Ajao’s John, which plays into dangerous tropes).
Historically, trauma, violence and abuse have been simple narrative devices: a back story to frame every action of an unstable/promiscuous/ vengeful woman (delete as applicable). Or as a motivator for the male character: what drives them, fuels them, propels their oh-so understandable rage (crimes against their masculinity, right?).
In Soho, though, exploitation and its impact on women is the spine of the story. And though we’ve seen much that so brilliantly shows the stark, stripped-back reality, Soho shows the all-out horror: the way that a mind can fracture and break.
The delusions, the hallucinations, the slipping and slid- ing between reality and fantasy; the disassociation that severs mind from body as the men we wish were faceless and nameless swarm and overwhelm our consciousness.
The film doesn’t just take a wrecking ball to nostalgia (which it does well and with precision) but also to male toxicity and misogyny. Not just past, but present. Today, yesterday, tomorrow.
The first moment of danger in the film comes not down a Soho back alley at 2am, but as Eloise first arrives there, when the sun is beginning to set. The black cab driver who drives her to her digs – Eloise wide-eyed as the sights flash by – suddenly turns sinister, “joking” that he could be her first stalker in the city.
The menace is laced into this seemingly everyday exchange as Eloise makes excuses to be dropped off away from her real destination.
Trauma, the film says, echoes through us as women; through the decades, through the generations; the vibrations still felt of the bell that was first rung.
This isn’t about the good girls and the bad, the Eloises and the Sandies. This is about all women. Whatever we do, wherever we are, whoever we are, we share a lineage: one that we screw up into a ball, stuff in our fists and pass down the line: from me to you, to you, to you, and on, and on, and on and on.
It’s in the walls, under the floors, in our spit, in our blood, beneath our fingernails. Mothers, daughters, sisters, grand- mothers. We all have our own Soho story. What’s yours?
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