Empire of Light

Empire of Light

A love story set in and around an old cinema on the South Coast of England in the 1980s.

  • Released: 2022-11-12
  • Runtime: 115 minutes
  • Genre: Drama, Romance
  • Stars: Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Crystal Clarke, Sara Stewart, Adrian McLoughlin, Spike Leighton, Ashleigh Reynolds, Mark Goldthorp, Dylan Blore, Eliza Glock, Tim Samuels, Jamie Whitlow, Dougie Boyall, D.J. Bailey, George Whitehead
  • Director: Sam Mendes
  • ethanbresnett - 12 January 2023
    A film deserving of much more love
    Empire of Light is such a beautiful piece of cinema, oozing class, poignancy and power.

    The story follows Olivia Coleman's Hilary, who forms an unlikely bond with Micheal Ward's Stephen whilst working together at the Empire cinema in Margate.

    This style of story is right up my street. A mismatched pair who find solace and comfort in each other. It is beautifully done and packs in so many themes and different angles. I do think that some of the themes are dealt with in a bit of a ham-fisted way, and a bit more refinement would have been welcome but this is a relatively minor criticism. On the whole the story is very well crafted.

    The performances are top notch. Olivia Colman really shines and is pushed to the limit by the layers of her character. Micheal Ward is a more than worthy opposite for her with a great leading performance.

    With the cinematography in the hands of Roger Deakins the film was always going to be a visual treat. There is a melancholic majesty to the cinema set that Deakins captures which is gorgeous. As always he photographs the characters with such sympathy and feeling.

    To top it all off the soundtrack perfectly compliments the themes of the film and brings even more emotion to the piece.

    I'm surprised this film isn't getting more love as it really blew me away and has so much power and emotion to it. Empire of Light is a real triumph in my opinion.
  • mgumsley - 11 January 2023
    Dreamland shines, everything else is drab
    Sam Mendes' made this film as a love letter to the movies. He almost succeeds in this, since Dreamland in Margate, with its magnificent cinema, ballroom and sweeping sea views is a visual treat. It's just that the people who inhabit this dreamlike landscape are flawed human beings, and the plot of this movie is just too ambitious and scattered.

    The actors are gifted, particularly Olivia Colman who plays the central character Hilary. She has mental issues, and is preyed upon by the Cinema Manager (a sullen Colin Firth). Her relationship with a new recruit, a young black man, gives her a new outlook and at the same time, she begins to take a new look at her life and surroundings. This sounds like a simple plot but so many issues intrude and it isn't helped by endless poetic quotes which would have been fine in the West End or even in one of Margate's quirky little theatres, but somehow feels wrong in Dreamland.

    I was even somewhat bored at times, and I am a Margate resident. But the town looks great and its regeneration will surely be helped by this film.
  • princesspentium - 11 January 2023
    Absolutely hooked from the first scene!

    What a wonderful film, I loved it! Olivia Colman is amazing - what a range of ability & talent! I felt moved almost to tears in several scenes. Michael Ward is an actor to watch, an understated performance but a perfect foil to Olivia, their scenes together are pure gold. Colin Firth, Toby Jones & the supporting cast are great too. And there's some quirky humour too! I loved everything about this movie, it really connected with me! The set of the Empire cinema was incredible, and some of the scenes looked like a Ted Hopper painting! Congratulations Sam Mendes, another winner!
  • michael-kerrigan-526-124974 - 11 January 2023
    A wonderful ode to cinema
    Empire of Light. Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Toby Jones (Berberian Sound Machine) and Micheal Ward (Top Boy) star in a magnificent ode to cinema. There are supplementary story lines about mental health and (anti-)racism which add to the overall whole. I've not felt such a warm glow being in a cinema in years. This film MUST be seen in a cinema as intended, where much of the film is set. The acting is ubiquitously brilliant, as you might expect from such a stellar British cast. I'd like to think the film will make you a little bit of a better person for watching it. Absolutely wonderful. An early contender for film of the year. 9 out of ten.
  • rmgwbmx - 10 January 2023
    Brilliant film
    Absolutely loved this film and incredible acting from Olivia Coleman. Wonderful scenes of glorious Margate and surrounding area All characters played a fantastic role and the film really took you back to the 1980s Great story lines Sam Mendes certainly has a winner in my eyes and the film and actors certainly deserved some awards. Would definitely recommend watching it. Subtly delving into the personal lives of the various characters, all of which complemented each other very well. This would make a great book too Cinema had a standing ovation as it finished which was very emotional A must watch.
  • adam_traynor - 10 January 2023
    Potential Oscar??
    Went see this film today and I have to say I really enjoyed it, all of the acting was great and I really loved the setting of the film.

    Also upon watching the film I couldn't help but recognise the chemistry between Olivia Colman and Michael Ward they seemed to work really well together on screen.

    The film shows a really good mixture of how over time a relationship can really grow between two people.

    The other thing that really caught my eye whilst watching this film was the ugliness of racial tensions in the 1980s.

    Seeing those particular scenes in this film made my blood sometimes boil knowing that this kind of perfetic and idiotic behaviour went on.
  • masonsaul - 10 January 2023
    Emotionally investing mixed bag
    Empire of Light grapples with a lot of different themes and issues but struggles to do them all justice resulting in a mixed bag that at least offers an emotionally investing love letter to the power of cinema that remembers to show the problems of the time.

    Olivia Colman gives a great lead performance that plays to her strengths with plenty of incredibly dramatic moments. Micheal Ward is really good with a calmness and earnestness that makes the romance more believable. Toby Jones is excellent in his small part, with a wholesome nature that hides a real sadness.

    Despite a muddled screenplay as first time solo screenwriter, Sam Mendes' direction is still technically impressive with Roger Deakin's gorgeous cinematography enhanced by a typically evocative score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
  • Xstal - 9 January 2023
    An Emotion Picture that Moves...
    You're trapped inside a world of make believe, where people take their seats to be deceived, lose themselves in fantasy, reels conjure alchemy, this is no paradise or palace, that you perceive. Behind closed doors, torment and distress are at play, where advantages are taken day by day, but you plough your lonely furrow, cage the rage, the pain, the sorrow, then someone new arrives, projects a fresh pathway.

    I spent two hours spellbound at the incredible Olivia Coleman, who takes you into the unstable world of Hilary in early 1980s Britain. More than ably supported by Michael Ward, the pair paint a picture of the challenges of the day, from different backgrounds and perspectives, that rollercoast your emotions to extremes. Great story, great direction and great performances - what more do you need from a film?
  • lukerandall - 9 January 2023
    What a beautiful film!
    Sam Mendes is such an incredible Director, Empire of Light is a rollercoaster of emotions.

    Olivia Colman gives such a fantastic performance throughout, alongside Michael Ward.. was great to see him getting a shot at a big film can't wait to see what else he has to offer in the future!

    The other cast members were great as well.

    The whole film is filmed with amazing shots and beautiful colours!

    Well worth a watch in the cinema.

    Olivia Colman could have easily received an Oscar nomination for her performance (even though the category is already filled with excellent performances)

    The pairs chemistry was unexpectedly one of the best parts of the movie!
  • rdoyle29 - 6 January 2023
    I liked it despite some serious flaws
    Olivia Colman works at a rundown movie house in a seaside town in the early 80's. She has a history of mental illness and seems to be running on autopilot until new employee Micheal Ward sparks new life in her.

    I really liked this film even though there are a lot of things about it that I don't think are very good. Sam Mendes' screenplay is ridiculously overstuffed with themes and ideas, many of which are not dealt with in any really satisfying way. Chief of which is what feels like it should be the film's main subject, the magic of film. Although the film does do a good job of evoking the experience of working in a movie theater, there's a recurring theme of the role movies play in life that really just isn't developed. Similarly, racism is raised as a plot point, but really just raised.

    What the film really has going for it is great performances from Colman and Ward (and a really great turn from Colin Firth as their loathsome boss) and astonishing cinematography from Roger Deakins. Deakins' work in particular is gorgeous without being showy and is worth the price of admission alone.
  • afmartin-27954 - 2 January 2023
    Really Good Film
    You know with Mendes/Deakins you're getting the best, but Colman and Ward steal the show. I am perplexed by the lower reviews here with all the hot garbage that is released in cinema these days. God forbid a human being story is told as opposed to another explosion/action film or super hero movie. This one has incredible acting, storytelling and has obvious pertinent themes that ring as true today (unfortunately) as they would have 40 years ago. Mendes is up for best Director, Colman for best Actor and Ward for best supporting and it's easily in the running for film of the year. If you want glitz and flash with trendy crap, look elsewhere.
  • Downbeat-173-765310 - 28 December 2022
    Incredible performances and film
    Empire of Light covers a lot of ground - trauma, racial views, love in many forms, mental health or lack thereof, the importance of film and art in our lives, and how we constrain ourselves from loving life and embracing it, with the possibilities of moving forward. Empire of Light may not be a flawless film, but the performances are pitch perfect. I think it needs to be seen in the theater, since the bedrock venue is about cinema, and that is a special joy. One can sometimes wonder where the film is going, but if you can hang in for the ride, it is incredibly moving. Shout outs to Michael Ward in addition to Olivia Coleman and others. Brilliant film on many levels.
  • steiner-sam - 27 December 2022
    Olivia Colman is fantastic
    It's a drama about relationships set in the last days of 1980 and the first half of 1981 in Margate, Kent, England. It follows the relationships of several people who work in a sizeable under-utilized movie theater.

    Donald Ellis (Colin Firth) is the lead manager of the theater. The operational manager is Hilary Small (Olivia Colman), who appears lonely but participates in the gang at a distance. Ellis has a bad marriage and sexually abuses Hilary when he calls her to his office for consultation. Neil (Tom Brooke) is the lead usher. A newly hired usher is Stephen (Micheal Ward), who is Black, aspires to education in architecture, and is keenly aware of racial tensions within England. However, he's also very friendly and outgoing. The projectionist, who loves the illusory world of movies, is Norman (Toby Ellis).

    Hilary and Stephen initially develop a relationship spurred on by Stephen's friendly manner as they explore no-longer-used parts of the theater. Although they're very different in age, their relationship becomes more intimate over time. We also learn a shadow side of Hilary's life that eventually explodes into a crisis. A white supremacy rally in Margate also has consequences for Stephen. The film ending wraps up with promise.

    Olivia Colman is fantastic as a woman dealing with mental health issues with and without medication. Her chemistry with Michael Ward is remarkable. Michael Ward and Colin Firth are also strong characters. The storyline is not fast-paced but is engaging. The metaphor of the theater for life is interesting but not original. Unfortunately, the ending is too neat, given all that has gone on. The end drops my rating by a point.
  • Sees All - 26 December 2022
    Sensitive and Moving
    EMPIRE OF LIGHT is an intelligent and literate film written and directed by Sam Mendes. Set in 1980/81 in an English seaside town, it tells the story of Hillary, a plumpish spinster who assistant-manages a movie theatre that has seen better days. She seems rather ordinary at first, but gradually we see how complex she is, and how she has to navigate her way through a life that is a kind of hell. But she reads poetry, and quotes poetry, and has tremendous empathy for her fellow humans. The theatre gets a new employee, Stephen, a young black man trying to improve his lot during a period of racial tension. Hillary and Stephen establish an unlikely bond that must, in their environment, be hidden. It turns out that there are other secrets in that environment, too.

    The literate script (by Mendes) is quite evocative not only of Fassbinder (FEAR EATS THE SOUL), but also of Chekhov (especially THE SEAGULL), and the David Lean film of BRIEF ENCOUNTER. Some of the poets cited are Tennyson, W. H. Auden, and T. S. Eliot.

    The film is quietly suspenseful, thanks greatly to the finely nuanced performance of Olivia Coleman as Hillary. Her role is a mental high-wire act, and she performs it beautifully. It is a moving performance aided by a splendid supporting cast. Even those actors in very small roles are memorable. Costumes, art direction, and cinematography are all first-rate. Mendes reminds us again how good he is.