James Bond's 'Last Night In Soho' (Spoilers)
I'd recommend to any fans of 60s Bond a viewing of Edgar Wright's acclaimed psychological horror film, 'Last Night In Soho' (2021).
Wright's most obvious reference to Bond is a recreation of the huge 'Thunderball' billboard fronting London's Rialto cinema at the time of 'Thunderball''s initial run. The moment when fashion student Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is magically transported from contemporary Soho to the Soho of the mid-sixties is precisely the moment she strolls into Coventry Street and faces, awestruck, that billboard in all its 'Look Up! Look Down! Look Out!' glory: OO7 marks the film's first, full-scale shift to the mise-en-scene of the swinging sixties. Also in the frame is the entrance to Cafe De Paris, the nightclub neighbouring the cinema. As Ellie looks on, groups of fashionable thrill-seekers crowd around both venues, ready for their evening's entertainment. This image instantly creates nostalgia for a time that most in the audience will be too young to have experienced, but it's highly alluring. As Bond historians know, 'Thunderball' premiered simultaneously at the Rialto and Pavilion, which was just around the corner in Piccadilly Circus. (I personally never got to see a movie at either cinema but I did occasionally club in the Cafe De Paris in the early 90s.) To complicate matters, a Rialto theatre, as opposed to the cinema, is another key set in 'Last Night In Soho', accommodating a sleazier form of West End entertainment, a girly review show.
Wright isn't the only contemporary film-maker to have co-opted 'Thunderball' in an exploration of sixties pop culture, with a postmodern bent. In 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' (2019), Tarantino works into his end titles John Barry's musical cue for the scene in 'Thunderball' where US Coast Guard divers parachute to engage Largo's men underwater. Also, Tarantino puts Brad Pitt in an orange scuba diving jacket and shorts, like in the 'Thunderball' poster, for a brief scene where Pitt's character, Cliff, is about to harpoon his hectoring wife in an 'accident'. We think she gets the point.
In 'Last Night In Soho', the phallic connotations of Bond's pose in the poster - harpoon gun erect, surrounded by a bevy of beauties - are contiguous with the sexually aggressive character of Jack (Matt Smith), manager of the Cafe de Paris, who uses a superficial charm and the patina of glamorous nightlife to draw in Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) to a darker, violent world, coercively pimping her out to his associates. If it's unclear whether the rapacious lyrics of the song 'Thunderball' voice the perspective of Bond or Largo, or both, they'd certainly fit teddy boy Jack. Yet brutalising Sandie is a fatal mistake. The young woman exacts violent revenge on the pimp, killing him and all the other men who have taken sexual advantage of her.
The final twist is that Ellie's elderly landlady, Miss Collins, turns out to be none other than Sandie herself, still harbouring corpses inside her walls and under her floorboards in Fitzrovia. The casting of Diana Rigg as Miss Collins/ Sandie is another respect in which the film renegotiates the sixties of Bondmania. Anya Taylor-Joy's stunning performance as the younger version of the same character, loving and killing when Bond was in the air and on the hoardings, inevitably brings to mind Dame Diana's iconic sixties roles as Emma Peel and Tracy Bond. In what was her final part, Dame Diana brilliantly mines both the monstrosity and pathos of Miss Collins, the homocidal former prostitute who expires in a symbolic conflagration. Viewers who remember 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' might think back to the rather distasteful question of whether a slapped Tracy's initial lovemaking with Bond is simply a matter of paying a debt owed. Now, finally, Tracy meets Miss Collins meets Miss Havisham (with Mrs Gillyflower in the mix, too - Dame Diana's gothic villainess of 'The Crimson Horror', written by Mark Gatiss for Matt Smith's 'Doctor Who' in 2013. Indeed, in 'Last Night In Soho' the ghostly manifestations of Smith's Jack and the murdered punters are realised in a similar SFX style to various apparations seen in episodes of contemporary 'Doctor Who'). Also in her final role, Margaret Nolan plays a Soho barmaid, her casting bringing with it, in turn, memories of 'Goldfinger''s Dink ("Man talk!") and the objectified 'golden girl' of that same movie's titles sequence.
Overall 'Last Night In Soho' engages ambiguously with references to sixties Bond, but the attention to detail and sense of nostalgia are strong and rewarding. The film is very entertaining in its own genre.