Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

Last Night in Soho (2021)

© Universal Pictures, Film4 Productions, Perfect World Pictures and Working Title Films

Last Night in Soho  – Film Review

Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Dame Diana Rigg

Director: Edgar Wright

Synopsis: An aspiring fashion student moves to London with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. However, she soon finds herself somehow being connected to a different era of London’s Soho…

Review: It’s a dream that plenty of us have at some point in our lives. Leave the comforts of the homes that we were raised in, and experience the bright lights, the busy streets, and the atmosphere and vibes that life in the big city can offer. Yet, for all the tourist attractions and the appealing allure of the big city life, every city (especially one as vast as London) can be overwhelming for people at first. Additionally, each city has a dark side, and both the celebration and the sinister dark side of London form the basis of the new film from one of the most unique voices in British film-making: Edgar Wright.

Eloise (McKenzie) is a fashion student who is a big fan of the 1960s and the music of that era. She moves from her cosy South West roots to the big bright lights of London to attend the London College of Fashion. She has big ambitions to realise her dreams and become a household name amongst the world’s fashion designers. Shortly after arriving, Eloise discovers that when she is asleep, she can travel back to a point during the Swinging Sixties in London where she mysteriously finds herself intertwined with the life of Sandy (Taylor-Joy), who aspires to become a singer. Initially, everything appears to be fine and dandy in the brightly lit neon streets of 1960s London. However, not everything is what it seems, and there’s a darker side to this city that Eloise is about to discover.

Having established herself with her stunning but subdued performance in Jojo Rabbit, this is another demonstration of Thomasin McKenzie’s extraordinary talents. When you make the move from the pleasant countryside to the big city, it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a student who’s experiencing the madness that is Fresher’s Week. McKenzie’s performance perfectly encapsulates that feeling in an extremely relatable manner as she initially struggles to adapt to this new life. As time goes on, she develops more confidence, as she sees part of herself in Sandy, which inspires her to be more outgoing in her social life and with her fashion designs. As the woman at the centre of Eloise’s fascination, Taylor-Joy’s performance as Sandy is suitably captivating. Additionally, this film marks the final on-screen performance of the late, great Diana Rigg’s illustrious career, and it’s a wonderful final performance.

In a note from the cast and crew of the film that was posted on Twitter, the urge to keep the mystery surrounding this film intact was heavily emphasised. Or, as they put it “What happens in Last Night in Soho, stays in Soho.” Hence, the mystery that has been crafted by Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns shall not be disclosed here. The film starts very strongly as we see Eloise blissfully experience her favourite time period through this vivid dream, but that blissful dream soon turns into a living nightmare when certain truths begin to emerge. As the mystery that’s at the centre of this film begins to unravel, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur. This is down some extremely slick editing. Through this shift, the film descends into horror film territory, a genre that Wright is no stranger to, given that he expertly combined horror and comedy in Shaun of the Dead.

While there’s enough to make audiences jump out of their seat in terror, the scares can get a little wearisome and repetitive. Furthermore, the messages of the film feel a little muddled in parts, especially by the end of the third act. This is extremely frustrating because of the ambitious nature of the story. However, life in the big city can sometimes be overwhelming and too much for the senses. Wright’s love letter to this city, which clearly means so much to him, has much to be admired about it. There are a plethora of ideas thrown at the wall, but not all of them stick the landing. Hence, it does sometimes feel a bit unsure of what kind of film it wants to be and might have just bit off more than it can chew.

You cannot fault the ambition, but even with a committed performance from McKenzie, a slightly muddled screenplay prevents Last Night in Soho from becoming another classic in Wright’s filmography.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Official Secrets (2019)

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Official Secrets – Film Review

Cast: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Adam Bakri, Ralph Fiennes, Conleth Hill

Director: Gavin Hood

Synopsis: Telling the true story of a GCHQ employee who, in violation of the Official Secrets Act of 1998, leaked a top secret memo containing information relating to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq to the press.

Review: One of the many wonderful aspects about film is that it can shine a light on an event from decades ago, and reintroduce it into the public consciousness for a whole new generation to learn about. This can also be applicable for historic events set in more modern times, as certain stories can get buried in the sea of round-the-clock news that the world has become. Stories that deserve to be known to people across the globe. One such example is that of a Government employee and her courageous decision to go against her government, at the very real risk of prosecution is a very brave one, especially in this day and age of emotionally charged political discourse.

The government employee in question here is GCHQ employee Katharine Gun (Knightley). On what appears to be a regular work day, an email comes through containing a memo with some top secret information relating to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, and whether certain countries were being coerced into voting for a resolution to go to war. Feeling that such information deserves to be shared with the wider world, and not buried behind legal barriers, she leaks the memo via a close confidante. Soon enough, the memo lands in the hands of the Press, who are left with their own risky decision as to whether they should invoke the fury of the government, and run the story.

Keira Knightely is an actor who certainly likes to pick roles in period dramas. However, here she comes back to modern(ish) times with a bang. She delivers a sensational performance as the woman who bravely takes a stand, when seemingly no one else would. Even though, such an action comes with the very severe risk of imprisonment. With each word, she displays her bravery and conviction in her belief that what she is doing is unequivocally the right thing to do. This is Knightley’s film and she carries it on her shoulders excellently, but she’s provided with a sea of strong supporting roles. Including the ever likeable Matt Smith as the leading journalist who first picks up the story, and a brief but effective performance from the consistently reliable Ralph Fiennes as the lawyer who represents Gun as she faces the threat of prosecution from the Government.

For a thriller that centres on espionage, especially one that doesn’t fire a single shot, there’s a necessity for a well written, sharp screenplay that keeps the audiences’s attention. There’s a risk that with this subject matter, that it could become perhaps a bit too dreary. However, with a script co-written by Gavin Hood, Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein, the intrigue and the suspense is maintained throughout the film. Though there are one or two moments that feel somewhat overly dramatised, the film never fails to be gripping. As the top secret document passes from numerous parties, all while the very real threat of prosecution hangs over Katharine Gun’s shoulders.

For a film that depicts events that are relatively speaking, not actually that long ago, there’s a very important message in this film that needs to be seized upon and relayed the world over. Namely, that a time when governments the world over are under intense scrutiny, every day, people like Katharine Gun are standing up for what’s right and calling into account actions that must be brought into the public domain for everyone to know about. Furthermore, to ensure that in the future, damning information such as is not buried under mountains of government paperwork, only to be locked into a safe, never to be spoken about again.

With a magnificent lead performance from Knightley, Official Secrets brings to light a story of paramount importance, and one woman’s brave fight against her Government that feels extremely timely in this day and age of bitterly-divided, partisan politics.