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Last Night in Soho — time-jumping psychological thriller switches from infectious fun to curdled visions


When exactly is it the Last Night in Soho? Director Edgar Wright’s time-jumping stew of comedy and psychological horror movie — set both then and now — is very specific about the past in which it half takes place. With the backdrop the famously louche London quarter of the title, a chunk of the story unfolds in the early 1960s right before pop culture grew its hair, when Carnaby Street was style capital of the world. Fans of Cilla Black and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich have waited a long time for this.

The rest is set in the present — although the film’s version of it might invite a squint. Still, that is where we begin, with a dedicated follower of retro fashion arriving in modern London from small-town Cornwall. In artless Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), some viewers might discern a dash of Wright himself — once another wide-eyed émigré from the English west country. For the director, Soho was his new home as a film-maker, his passion for movies including the school of British bedsit shocker — the notorious Peeping Tom, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion — energetically homaged here. For Eloise, obsessed with all things ’60s, the destination is the London College of Fashion. Her mind’s eye imagines dizzying glamour; the reality is a student hall. The homespun comedy of Wright’s breakthrough Shaun of the Dead is intact and still sweetly likeable.

So she decamps to the kind of throwback attic flat where a person might naturally succumb to nocturnal visions of London fleshpots 60 years in the past. The dream-scene Eloise finds herself pulled into is the fabled Café de Paris off Piccadilly, where a poised blonde named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) turns heads in pink chiffon. Every cockney kiss-off is the sign of a star — and Wright is smitten too, his dancefloor set pieces the mark of a film having huge, infectious fun.

And then much less so — for it and him and her and all of us. The director has asked reviewers not to talk in detail about the second half of his film. Given how radically it falls apart you could argue that he would, wouldn’t he? Let’s simply say that from here Eloise’s visions curdle and spill over into the 21st century, her sanity in question on the top floor in Goodge Place.

A young woman with blond, coiffed hair walks down a dark street in a shiny white trench coat and white boots
Anya Taylor-Joy turns heads as poised blonde, Sandie © Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features

The address is precise, like many others. Unwise. For Londoners, the movie’s contemporary stretches may feel like overhearing a tourist being given wilfully wrong directions. Perhaps it shouldn’t matter that the real Goodge Place has long been expensively gentrified, and is not actually in Soho, or that amid the area’s still unique ecology, much of the movie sets itself in the most globally generic of all possible locations: an Irish pub.

But the wonky geography is a symptom of a deeper problem. You don’t need to be a local for the film’s choices to feel consistently off — from the bizarrely PG love interest to the fashion college library where students scour ’60s newspaper reports of grisly murders. If the film is a portrait of a young woman losing touch with reality, Wright gets there first. A terrible pickle awaits — an Adults Only story that feels like children’s TV.

★★★☆☆

In UK and US cinemas from October 29



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