Halfway into Edgar Wright’s latest film, Last Night in Soho, I stumbled and fell in love with everything in it.
Some friends and I had dressed up last minute in Halloween fits, tipsy and stuffed with nacho cheese. We could not wait to see Anya Taylor-Joy looking hot in glitzy Soho. I entered expecting aesthetics and came out with an array of emotions and impressions. It was that energy signaling to me that I had to write about this film – in whatever way I could.
While there is a lot to say about the feminist themes concerning the horror-thriller, I want to cover the topic of alienation and nostalgia, and the lethal aura circling the ‘rose-tinted’ lens of the past. I will talk particularly of the relationship between Eloise ‘Ellie’ Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) and Sandie (Taylor-Joy) and their representative eras.
(Click to expand the warning boxes to reveal spoilers.)
I directed a lot of my awe not towards the glamorous Sandie Collins in her peach tent dress, but the convincing protagonist who projects Sandie’s story, Ellie Turner. A girl experiencing her transition into fashion college, outcasted due to her obsession with the ‘Swinging Sixties’. The suit and ties, youth culture, and cinematic flair today’s culture associates with the bygone era makes us all guilty of romanticising the past, something that was rather natural to those who lived through it. Ellie is perhaps more relatable than we like to think. Haven’t we all had misconceptions of the past, turning something into a spectacle when it had its bad moments too?
Ellie, approaching adulthood, is nervous and vulnerable in her new environment. Jocasta, another fashion student in her accommodation, immediately clashes with Ellie as a personification of 21st-century individualism. She desires to be remembered by one name (likely inspired by past idols) and exudes a self-centredness when Ellie tries to talk about her problems.
It was interesting how this set up the modern environment as antagonistic, with Ellie’s nostalgia comparatively more sympathetic. Looking back, I ask, is Eloise really so estranged from 21st-century modernity? Especially when nowadays, adopting aesthetics from bygone eras has become decidedly ‘modern’ – internet aesthetics and vintage subcultures are hardly between far and few.
Shortly after Ellie moves into a flat owned by enigmatic landlady Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg), Ellie is absorbed into a rich sub-reality projected through her dreams. Sandie, a beautiful performer with great potential, is first shown in her audition for a Soho Nightclub. Jack (Matt Smith), the manager, is positioned as a love interest, and the night is full of bright lights, suit and ties, vesper cocktails, and romantic tension. The camera angles, music, and visuals were truly enchanting, as though the audience were thrust into the Swinging Sixties alongside Ellie. I thought, ‘Sure, Ellie is creating her own reality to escape into, seems plausible’, reflecting off of its magical portrayal. But despite this eerieness, I did not foresee the supernatural twist to come.
Sandie’s life seems desirable. At first, she has everything – the looks, the voice, the manager. Sandie appears more as an abstract concept or ‘ideal’ than a complete person. However, we learn that this is a farce. We know that Ellie has a vivid imagination and a love for the sixties, but rather than inventing Sandie, Sandie uses Ellie as the perfect host to project her memories.
The more time passes, the more the dreams warp into sinister visions.
Ellie’s nostalgia is punished as she is revealed to Sandie’s lived experience. The more it consumes her, the more we get a better picture of what this film warns us against. Nostalgia – is dangerous. Nostalgia insults. Nostalgia kills.
The Swinging Sixties was a transformative time in Western fashion and culture. Mary Quant’s miniskirt and the rise of the contraceptive pill helped push for sexual liberation, particularly with women. Last Night in Soho shows this through the character of Sandie, who is free and even encouraged to pursue men. But the film also captures the darker layers beneath this ‘liberation’, revealing the unequal power dynamics where the men are free to objectify and use women withless societal taboo surrounding sex. It would only be due to second and later waves of feminism where society would properly address these issues.
We were both once individuals locked inside a pocket of time, clashing with peers, until we had to let go of our adolescent fantasies. Instead of looking to the past, we, as adults, vow to look towards a better tomorrow.
Zorsha Taylor Suich is an English Lit and Creative Writing student at UEA with a love for writing, culture, and vintage style. She is the fashion section editor for Concrete, UEA’s newspaper, and an Oxfam shop volunteer, which both employ her love for artistic expression through clothing and personal style. She aims to promote sustainable practices through her content calls, volunteering, and newspaper articles. Presently, she is interested in Cottagecore and takes her inspiration from Pinterest, film, and the high street. Other interests include classic literature, period dramas, classic rock, the 1960s and 1970s, tarot reading, video essays, and the sociology of alternative subcultures.