Last Night in Soho
This was my Halloween film this year and it was pretty good. It’s about a mousy fashion student who goes to London, rents a room in an old-fashioned boarding house, and by night is transported to the ‘60s, and the life of a confident, beautiful, glamorous aspiring singer, whose whirlwind success hides an ugly secret. I liked that it was a genre film about sexism without rubbing that in your face, relying on the patronising “aren’t all women stunning and brave” trope. By yoking the theme to an exciting horror mystery it can convey a lot more and a lot better than more self-conscious and lecture-y material. I wish that it had gone in a less pulpy direction in the second half, neatly tying up its loose ends, and instead aimed for a more emotional, less logical, even David Lynch feel, but it’s still worth the watch.
Because it’s an Edgar Wright film and I really liked Baby Driver
I expected to love it, but instead just sort of liked it. Now that I’ve brought up David Lynch the film it’s reminding me of is Mulholland Drive
, another mystery about a naive woman come to the city who gets enmeshed in another woman’s secrets.
But where Drive
was a surrealist film where the surface plot ultimately dissipates in favour of emotion and dream logic, Soho
ends up as a rather straightforward whodunnit, reducing the heady first half to something a lot more explicable, but also less engaging. It’s still good, gorgeous at times, but I’d have liked both halves to match.
NZ actress Thomasin McKenzie is convincing as the mousy student, Michael Ajao appropriately likeable and non-threatening as her love interest. Anya Taylor-Joy shines in the role of the ‘60s glamour-puss whose confidence hides a naiveté, about to be brutally exploited by Matt Smith. Smith is very convincing as the type of ‘60s dancehall sleaze-merchant who’s handsome, charming, and well-dressed, but who uses those qualities as a smokescreen for whom he really is: an abusive control freak. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do enough with him. The character is just a narrative device in the final account, which is a huge missed opportunity.
The movie’s most memorable set-piece is a stage show in which Taylor-Joy performs as a clockwork woman, wound up and left to run for the pleasure of men who see her only as a toy. That would have been more effective if she and Smith were characterised more strongly.
The film remains a decent repudiation of nostalgia, however. Behind the glitz and glamour of ‘60s culture, and how youthful femininity was used to sell everything from clothes and records to dancehalls, it was an age of exploitation, often predatory. It’s worth remembering that a guiding light of the British dancehall was Jimmy Savile, a DJ and media personality posthumously exposed as having been a sociopathic rapist, child molester, and possible necrophile. We wonder how he got away with it, why no-one raised enough of an eyebrow to at least get him off TV, but the ‘60s and ‘70s were largely engineered by and for blokes like him. When he got too close to young girls on Top of the Pops
or joked about keeping teen runaways in his caravan overnight, we just laughed. That, after all, was the ‘60s. 3/4