Edgar Wright’s London After Dark is a new season curated by director Edgar Wright to coincide with the release of his new film, the glorious homage to 60s Soho, Last Night in Soho (2021). Taking place at BFI Southbank from 18 October to 29 November, with selected films also available on BFI Player, the season of 10 films will introduce audiences to the work that inspired Wright’s latest film.
In addition to Wright’s choices such as cult hit Beat Girl (1960), Hitchcock’s last great shocker Frenzy (1972), and fun and gritty The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963), the season will also include two special screenings of Last Night in Soho (2021), which is released in the UK on 29 October. There will be a preview on 21 October (with special guests to be announced), and a special screening on 31 October, followed by an in-person Q&A with Wright.
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“My new film Last Night In Soho was born out of a long-held desire to fashion a story set in an area of Central London that I’ve worked in for the last 25 years, a district that I love and sometimes fear,” says Wright. “The 1960s casts a long shadow on Soho and I’ve long been fascinated with the films of the period that peek into the darker corners of central London nightlife. This season represents a broad range of some of the films that inspired me; dramas, horrors, thrillers, even documentaries (of sometimes dubious veracity). So, as the nights get longer, disappear down some dark alleys with me…”
Wright’s highly anticipated Last Night in Soho (2021) stars Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise, who leaves her life in a remote village to become a fashion student in London, where home becomes a top-floor flat amid Soho’s neon lights. Eloise soon learns that life in the capital is not without its dangers as she learns secrets about Soho in the past and must face some ghosts that are lurking in the present.
Films chosen by Wright to screen in the season include the first of a series of ripped-from-the-headlines tabloid documentaries, West End Jungle (1961), which exposes the titillating, but more often tawdry, secrets of the oldest profession. Despite much of it being faked for the camera, it’s still a spyglass back in time to the nightlife of the late 50s. Another exposé of the ‘real’ London, Primitive London (1965) veers from glimpses of burlesque shows, to mods and rockers, to ‘wife-swappers’ and back again – this highly amusing peek into a Soho lost to the mists of time is also available on BFI Player.
Passport to Shame (aka Room 43) (1958) is a B-movie that finds an American London cabbie on a dangerous mission to rescue an innocent French girl tricked into prostitution. An exposé of late 1950s Soho and the nocturnal world of beatnik coffee shops and illicit strip joints, Beat Girl (1960) is filled with famous faces: Christopher Lee, Adam Faith, Oliver Reed, Shirley Ann Field, as well as a would-be Bardot in Gillian Hills as the eponymous lead. Anthony Newley stars in the Uncut Gems of early 60s Brit cinema, The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963); he’s a motormouth nightclub MC whose gambling debts are going to result in two broken legs. Passport to Shame, Beat Girl and the Small World of Sammy Lee will all be available to stream on BFI Player.
No film represents the curdling of 60s fab into early-70s drab like Alfred Hitchcock’s last great shocker Frenzy (1972). While this bracingly dark thriller with the blackest of laughs represents Hitchcock at his most gleefully misanthropic, it’s still a fearsomely entertaining proposition. Released in the very middle of the 1960s, John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965) also feels like the very epicentre of the scene. Julie Christie’s Diana Scott seems like the girl who has it all, but being the life of the party isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just as the 1960s were about to hit full swing, this sharp satire reveals the paper-thin reality of cover-story perfection.
Never has Eastmancolor felt so woozily, vividly hypnotic than in Michael Powell’s controversial Peeping Tom (1960), which will also be available on BFI Player; it’s as easy to be seduced by the luscious visuals as the poor victims of Carl Boehm’s psychopath are drawn into their deadly photoshoots. Bitter Harvest (1963) takes the centrepiece of Patrick Hamilton’s masterly London trilogy of novels, 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, and updates it to the early 60s.
Completing the line-up for the season (and also available on BFI Player) is The Pleasure Girls (1965), an entertaining example of the ‘young girl moves to the big city’ genre that was so common in 1960s British cinema. The film features a cast of very fresh famous faces such as Francesca Annis and Ian McShane, a pre-Doctor Who Anneke Wills, Hammer star Suzanna Leigh and the darkly charismatic Klaus Kinski.
A number of the films in the season will also screen alongside short documentaries from the series Look at Life, which were produced in the 1960s by the Rank Organisation to screen in their Odeon and Gaumont cinemas; more than 500 of these shorts offering a glimpse into everyday British life were made and those screening at BFI Southbank will include: Market Place (1959), Rising to High Office (1963), Goodbye Piccadilly (1967), In Gear (1967), Coffee Bar (1959) and Members Only (1965).