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.


Empire Of Light

1h 53m

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Crystal Clarke, Toby Jones, Colin Firth.

UK Release: Cinemas 9th January 2023