Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Adrift in Soho ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th November, 2018

Adrift in SohoSoho in the 1950s and 1960s was a magnet for young people tired of post-War England’s grey atmosphere and grey food — a place where you could find a good, cheap French or Italian meal or sit for hours over a beer in the Coach and Horses or a coffee at the 2i’s, and where sexual liberation had arrived. In Colin Wilson’s 1961 novel, Adrift in Soho, a young provincial, Harry Preston, is drawn in, at once intrigued but also slightly nauseated by the astonishingly free people he encounters, at various stages in their creative growth or disintegration. Some are self-manufactured “characters”, while others are genuinely eccentric or original. And many seem to have succumbed to Sohoitis, a clearly mental as well as physical lassitude that can lead to depression and death. Pablo Behrens’ new film, of the same title as the book, beautifully captures the atmosphere of the period and place in a cinematic style that is a homage to Francois Truffaut and the French Nouvelle Vague. There are some really beautiful shots and angles and good use is made of the sub-plot of a film being made within the film. Owen Drake, as Harry, looks suitably bemused as he chronicles the people and events around him, from seedy strip joints to preparations for the Aldermaston anti-nuclear March, but it is Chris Wellington as the handsome young sponger and lothario, James Compton-Street, who really steals the show, charming but reckless and ultimately doomed. There are some nice cameos, not least a scene with a camp Francis Bacon-inspired artist, but there are also longueurs. Cutting 15 or 20 minutes from the film would make it sharper. The politics could be edgier, too. The film has been made on a tight budget, which at times shows, but it is nonetheless an important achievement, and as Colin Wilson’s son, whom I met at the premiere after-party in Soho, said, his father would probably have been pleased.


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