Last Night In Soho | 2021
It’s tough writing about such a genre-busting, twist-filled film without spoilers so I’ll assume that if you’re reading about the locations, you’ve already seen Last Night In Soho.
If not, stop now and watch it. It’s one of those films best experienced without knowing too much.
Having said that, I’ll try to give too away as little as possible.
When Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is accepted by the London College of Fashion, her ambition to become a fashion designer gets a step closer to being realised, though it means swapping the home she shares with with her Gran (Rita Tushingham) in ‘Redruth, Cornwall’ for the tough world of the big city.
No, that’s not Cornwall. One little village home looks pretty much like another and the production sensibly remains in the Home Counties.
The Turner house might look subliminally familiar to UK TV viewers – it’s popped up several times in that home of genteel carnage Midsomer Murders, as the Morse home in Endeavour, in Poirot, Good Omens and even in Downton Abbey.
It’s Colstrope Farm, a Grade II-listed 18th century farmhouse on Colstrope Lane off Skirmett Road just north of the village of Hambleden in Buckinghamshire, near Henley-on-Thames.
Being convenient for the studios, picturesque Hambleden itself is a screen regular, seen in Hammer’s 1966 The Witches; Death on the Nile; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; 101 Dalmatians; the 1998 screen version of cult Sixties TV series The Avengers and Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods.
Eloise arrives at London's Paddington Station and, brimming with anticipation, is driven through the familiar sights of the West End. The obnoxious leering of her cab driver, though, seems to confirm her gran’s misgivings about life in the capital.
Uncomfortable, she stops the cab before it reaches her destination on the pretext of needing to buy something.
Last Night… is packed with enough fleeting movie references to programme a damn good film festival.
A couple of minutes south of Newman Arms is the convenience store where Eloise opts for a can of Coke. It’s Patkins News, 28 Rathbone Place at Percy Street and almost – but not quite – another location from Peeping Tom.
In Powell's film, respectable old gent Miles Malleson buys a set of ‘exotic’ photos from one of two newsagents which stood on opposite corners at the foot of Rathbone Street. I’m sure Wright would have loved to film the scene in that shop but it’s now become Italian Bear Chocolate, serving up hot chocolate drinks. Back in the day, the two stores looked pretty indistinguishable but the chocolate bar has been so drastically refurbished that its twin across the street has to stand in.
Eloise is happy to continue the short walk to her student accommodation. This is Ramsay Hall, nearby on Maple Street at Fitzroy Street, Fitzrovia, W1, where she meets her ghastly roommate Jocasta.
As students do on their first night away from home, the newbies all head out to bond over drinks, in this case heading to The Toucan in Soho.
When a pub’s name features so prominently in a film, you can usually assume it’s fake. In this film Edgar Wright plays fair, most of the time, and this is a genuine Irish boozer which you’ll find at 19 Carlisle Street, just off Soho Square. Order anything other than Guinness at your peril, and prepare to be patient – it takes time to pour the Black Stuff properly.
Don’t plan to pop in for a lunchtime quickie – The Toucan doesn’t usually open until 4pm, it’s tiny and it can get very busy, though if the weather's fine, there's plenty of room outside.
There is a basement bar but, for ease of filming, this was meticulously recreated in the studio. And I was disappointed to find there's no jukebox.
Leaving the pub, Eloise glimpses through the glass of an old red phone box, a mysterious silver-haired man (Sixties icon Terence Stamp), who seems to recognise her, as he emerges from the doorway of the sleazy-looking 88 Dean Street. In real life, this is Rippon, a perfectly respectable stationer and newspaper shop with a wonderfully restored Georgian frontage (it’s another listed building) – and there is no phone box opposite.
At a party back at the student digs, Eloise meets the friendly John (Michael Ajao), though she’s careful to keep up her guard.
It’s time for work and, staying real, that is the London College of Fashion on John Prince’s Street, just off busy Oxford Street near Oxford Circus, where Eloise is allowed to explore her fab Sixties sensibility.
But, apart from John, Eloise is getting a hard time from her pretentious fellow students and decides to find a place of her own.
That’s how she ends up on the top floor of a Soho boarding house at 8 Goodge Place (yes, that’s the real address) run by the strict but lovingly maternal Ms Collins (Diana Rigg, in her final role).
The ’Marguerite French Bistro’ next door is pure invention. The overwhelming smell of garlic is something of a plot point but, if anything, there’s more likely to be an aroma of WD40 – the premises is actually a locksmith.
That night, in the first of several bravura sequences, Eloise drifts off to sleep accompanied by the the strains of Cilla Black’s You’re My World and finds herself back in the 1960s.
As the soundtrack bursts into glorious stereo she emerges from a narrow passageway into the dazzle of ‘Coventry Street’ circa 1965 and facing the legendary ‘Café de Paris’.
Dating back to 1924, the Café was a real and glitzy nightclub in the basement of the Rialto Cinema on the north side of Coventry Street, which links Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
The club was touched by tragedy when a direct hit by a German bomb killed 34 people, including bandleader Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson.
In later years, it became a regular film location seen in the likes of both 1990's The Krays and the 2015 version of their story Legend, as well as X-Men: First Class, An Education, Scandal, King Ralph and Absolute Beginners, but the Covid lockdown in 2020 finally finished it off. The long-disused cinema is now the Rialto Casino and Bar.
In the film, the ‘Café’ is beneath the Empire Haymarket Cinema on Haymarket, south of Piccadilly Circus, with a little set dressing – including that enormous Thunderball billboard. Ironically, for a place that had been seen so frequently onscreen, the interior of the 'Café de Paris' is a studio set.
The first major jolt comes as Eloise walks down the steps into the club only to see a complete stranger – confident, blonde and very Sixties (Anya Taylor-Joy) – reflected in its mirrors.
If you’re tired of the current lazy reliance on digital effects, you’ll love Edgar Wright’s ingenuity in staging practical illusions.
Look closely – the doorman and his supposed ‘reflection’ are played by identical twins James and Oliver Phelps (the Weasley brothers from the Harry Potter films).
Ambitious to become a headliner in the West End, Eloise’s mysterious alter ego, called Sandie, takes up with the charming and seemingly well-connected Jack (Matt Smith) who promises to help launch her singing career.
The next night, Eloise slips quickly back into her alternative dream world, where Jack collects her in his black Triumph TR4.
As the car negotiates the narrow and crowded streets, there’s that astonishing shot of a long-vanished Soho.
This big sequence too was staged for real. It’s Soho’s Frith Street (somewhere down there is Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club).
The area is famous for being open all hours, so disguising the street with a welter of period signage during the small hours of the morning was no mean feat.
And it’s not just Frith Street. The period dressing continues along Bateman Street as Jack makes a right turn to approach the (entirely fictitious) ‘Rialto Theatre’ on Greek Street.
The theatre entrance, facing Bateman Street, is 12-13 Greek Street, which is now trendy bar the Little Scarlet Door – don’t be fooled by the fake blue plaque for ‘The Flatmates’.
As Sandie and Jack enter the theatre, we’re immediately onto a studio set, where Sandie performs Petula Clark’s Downtown, naively assuming this audition is the first step in her singing career.
She splashes out on a 1967 Biba frock but is rattled to see that across from the vintage clothes shop stands the entrance to the ‘Rialto Theatre’ she saw in her dream.
Don’t pop in looking for retro bargains – the cream-tiled 'clothes store' in reality is yet another cool cocktail bar, Thirst Bar, 53 Greek Street on the corner of Bateman Street.
To pay for her extravagances, Eloise takes a job behind the bar of The Toucan.
Her dreams become increasingly downbeat as she watches Sandie’s singing audition lead to nothing more than a demeaning gig as a backing dancer, and her obligation to the no-longer-charming Jack now involves providing company – and more – to anonymous middle-aged men.
During a Halloween party at a packed nightclub (notice her classmates are dressed as the characters from The Craft), Eloise’s visions become more intrusive.
The nightclub is Infernos, 146 Clapham High Street, SW4 in South London, a popular and packed disco, seen in The Inbetweeners movie – and it's claimed to be one of the favourite hangouts of Margot Robbie, no less.
But it’s never that simple, is it? The exterior of the club is Fire London, 39 Parry Street in Vauxhall, SW8. As Eloise rushes out for air, she’s consoled by John beneath the rail lines on South Lambeth Road. Emotionally shaken, she disregards Ms Collins’ rules and invites John back to her bedsit.
They jump from the bus on a rainy Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End, rushing past the Gielgud Theatre up Rupert Street toward what used to be the famous Madame Jo-Jo’s.
Immediately they’re running from Wardour Street through narrow Bourchier Street and back to the bedsit.
Eloise’s frighteningly real dreams turn shockingly nasty. They intrude into her waking life, and a vision of Sandie at college sends her rushing out across the busy road junction of Oxford Circus, to Liberty department store and past Little Marlborough Street, where she glimpses a mob of creepily faceless men.
Prompted to look into the murders of young women in Sixties Soho, the archive of contemporary press accounts Eloise consults is SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) University of London Library, Thornhaugh Street at Russell Square, WC1, which is not open to the general public. It was also featured in Ariel Vromen’s little-seen 2016 thriller Criminal, with Kevin Costner and Ryan Reynolds.
Spooked by more apparitions, and now spotting Sandie in the street below, Eloise runs off, tearing through Percy Passage back toward the Newman Arms on Rathbone Place and through the narrow passageway alongside (where the first murder in Peeping Tom took place) to Newman Passage, where she comes face-to-face with the very angry Jack.
Trying to avoid major spoilers here. A series of revelations convinces Eloise to get out of London ASAP.
From a phone box (which was just another prop) in Soho Square itself, she phones her Gran, who offers to collect her.
While she’s frantically collecting her possessions from the bedsit, the film explodes into a full-blown and thrilling Giallo.
Who but Edgar Wright could, or would, orchestrate the climactic mayhem to a Cilla Black single?
Serious spoiler: Eloise survives. I have to reveal this in order to mention that her Sixties-themed collection is finally presented, to much approval, in F Block, an event space at the Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, Spitalfields, E1.