Set in an English seaside town in the early 1980s and spawned from director
Sam Mendes love of the cinema. Empire Of Light tells the story of various
characters employed in a beautiful art deco cinema situated on the towns
sea front, the Dreamland Margate stands in for the films Empire cinema.
Chief protagonists, as opposed to the chief projectionist (Toby Jones), is
lonely Hilary Small (Olivia Colman). Living on her nerves, and only a short
trip to the popcorn stand away from a full mental breakdown, Hilary falls
for the latest addition to the staff, Stephen (Michael Ward). Much younger
than Hilary the pair take their working relationship slightly further than
they should. Added to her predicament she is also in an adulterous
relationship with the manager of the cinema (Colin Firth).
The longer Hilary and Stephens relationship progresses the more her mental
health worsens culminating in a mental breakdown just as the cinema is full
of dignitaries watching the west coast premiere of Chariots of Fire.
Watching Empire of Light gives you the impression that Mendes wanted to
make a film about the cinema and in order to get it greenlit he was given a
set of topics that the film had to cover, racism tick, mental health tick
and a strong woman character tick. Whilst all of the subjects are worthy in
themselves Empire Of Light tries to cover so many subjects it feels as if
it the story gets lost along the way.
Performances are wonderful across the board and the 80s period detail is
terrific. It’s just a shame Mendes story isn’t as interesting or as
engrossing as it should have been.