A peek at Diana Rigg's final screen role in Edgar Wright's 'Last Night in Soho'

By Mark Olsen

The hallucinatory horror-thriller "Last Night in Soho" will plunge audiences into a dazzling re-creation of mid-'60s London. And while Edgar Wright's film is led by rising stars Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, it's the pivotal supporting turns from Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham and the late Dame Diana Rigg — in what would turn out to be her last role — that draw more direct connections to the era.

Directed by Wright, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the film stars "Jojo Rabbit's" McKenzie as Eloise, who leaves the rural quietude of life with her grandmother (Tushingham) for fashion school in contemporary London.

Obsessed with a past she never knew, Eloise rents a small room from the kindly Miss Collins (Rigg), and soon begins to enter a nighttime dreamworld in which she follows Sandy ("The Queen's Gambit" star Taylor-Joy), an aspiring singer in the mid-'60s, on an increasingly twisted journey. The two worlds begin to collide as Eloise grapples with questions of reality and long-buried secrets, and a dapper man-about-town (Stamp) may have the answers she needs.

Working with costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux, production designer Marcus Rowland and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, Wright brings the '60s sequences to vivid life. And the director says that casting Rigg ("The Avengers," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"), Stamp ("Teorema," "Modesty Blaise") and Tushingham ("A Taste of Honey," "The Knack and How to Get It") was about more than just utilizing their status as well-known figures of the era.

"It wasn't only about the amazing opportunity of casting some of the most iconic actors of the ['60s], but also about the weight and power they bring to modern London too," said Wright. "They have this connection to the past, but they are still working actors I was lucky enough to work with. I can't say enough great things about working with all three of them."

Wright had previously cast his 2007 film "Hot Fuzz" with an older generation of well-known figures of British cinema including Timothy Dalton, Edward Woodward and Billie Whitelaw. Yet, the strategy this time out had its own unique logic.

"The film is very different from 'Hot Fuzz,' but the premise behind the casting remains somewhat the same: If you love an actor from your youth, write a good part for them!'" said Wright. "My life is forever enriched by having had the chance to work with Terence, Rita and Diana. Although, I had to temper my desire to barrage them with questions about their past work, as you have to start shooting at some point."

Rigg, who recently found renewed fame on HBO's "Game of Thrones," died in September 2020 at age 82, not long after finishing her post-production work on "Soho." Casting Rigg was particularly thrilling for Wright, as he recalled, "Honestly, the crush I had on her as a little kid never really went away."

For McKenzie, being in a movie alongside Rigg, Tushingham and Stamp was a thrill. The 21-year-old New Zealand native recalled telling her grandmother about her co-stars, saying, "I think that was the most excited she'd ever been about any kind of news about my career."

And the emotional weight of losing Rigg after filming is not lost on the young actress.

"It's kind of hard to express," said McKenzie. "I feel very lucky to have been able to work with her. It is a beautiful role for her career to end on because she gave such a powerful performance. And I think everyone on set was very aware of how amazing she was and how lucky we all were to be working with Dame Diana.

"I was really impressed with her cause she's just such a professional," said McKenzie. "She just arrived and she got it done. I really admired her a lot. She was so strong and so into it and such a beautiful grand presence."

The experience of working with Rigg on her final film was also deeply impactful for Wright.

"The story of the film and the entire production has become both inextricably linked and achingly poignant to me; not least because Diana is no longer with us," said Wright. "I was working with her, and indeed laughing with her, right up until a week or two before she passed away. She was a true delight to work with ... I feel somehow equally proud of the fact that she invited me to brunch with her after the shoot so we could talk about anything and everything. Her son-in-law told me the other day that she said of me, 'He's a nice boy.' I can retire on that alone."

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