Last Night in Soho
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An aspiring dress designer finds the line between dreams and reality blurring in a sinister fashion when she rents a room in London that hasn’t been redecorated since her favorite time period, the 1960s.
Anya Taylor-Joy, fresh off The Queen’s Gambit, brings the same quiet, spooky intensity to her role as an aspiring singer and dancer. Matt Smith, of Doctor Who and The Crown fame, plays her creepy manager. Diana Rigg is perfect as Mrs. Collins, Eloise’s landlady. And Terence Stamp glimmers in and out of frame as a mysterious silver-haired gentleman.
Billed as a psychological thriller, Last Night in Soho starts off like a cozy coming-of-age film, with just the right number of jarring touches to tell us all is not as it seems. Introverted country mouse Eloise (Thomasin MacKenzie) gets the news that she’s been admitted to fashion school in London. She lives with her sweet, protective grandmother, who seems very concerned that London will prove “too much” for the sensitive girl. Eloise’s mother, we learn, committed suicide when Eloise was just 7, and Eloise sometimes “sees” her late mum. Can Eloise see ghosts, or is she just possessed of a particularly intense imagination? The camera work leaves plenty of room for whichever interpretation we prefer, and we follow Eloise to London without finding a definitive answer.
That crucial ambiguity persists as Eloise starts school and rents a bedsit in Soho. Mrs. Collins, the landlady, warns her against having boys back to her room, and remarks that she won’t change anything about the room, which she hasn’t updated since the 1960s. Eloise isn’t fazed; she’s already ’60s-obsessed. Once upstairs, she puts one of her gran’s classic British Beat records on the vintage phonograph, and crawls into bed.
At once, she’s transported to a decades-earlier London, where she’s captivated by an aspiring singer named Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). In a series of eerie, trance-like scenes that make clever use of mirrors, windows, and the resemblance between the two lead actresses, Eloise follows the singer through Soho’s seedy and fabulous nightlife, growing more and more entranced by her. Each night, Eloise returns to the past to follow Sandy in her dreams. At moments she seems almost to become Sandy, and during her daylight hours at fashion school, she designs Sandy-inspired dresses and bleaches and styles her hair Sandy-blonde.
At first, Eloise’s nightly adventures seem destined to eclipse her days, not to mention ruining any chance of a meaningful arc of character development for the country mouse. But this film is smarter than that. No sooner has Sandy’s story taken a dark, horror-inspired turn than Eloise gains unexpected strength, taking control of her story and upending our expectations of a shy girl’s sexual coming-of-age in cinema.
Starring Queen’s Gambit‘s Anya Taylor-Joy, Last Night in Soho takes horror and coming-of-age tropes and subverts them in a stylish thriller that has more depth than meets the eye.
Hardcore horror fans might find Last Night in Soho too mild, but fans of twisty thrillers and complex female protagonists will savor every twist and turn.
Screenwriter Kristy Wilson-Cairns actually spent her twenties tending bar at a club called the Toucan, where Eloise gets a job in the film. And, without giving away too much, half the fun is realizing by the end that Diana Rigg’s most famous role as the femme fatale star of The Avengers makes her almost too perfect here.