Empire Of Light Review

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Plot: A drama about the power of human connection during turbulent times, set in an English coastal town in the early 1980s.

Film: Empire of Light

Director: Sam Mendes

Writer: Sam Mendes

Starring: Olivia Colman, Michael Ward

Empire of Light follows Hilary (Olivia Colman), who has suffered a psychotic break, as she returns to work at her Cinema and seemingly starts to fall into old habits including a behind-closed-doors affair with her boss Donald (Colin Firth). That is, until she meets new employee Stephen (Michael Ward), and she starts to regain a sort of zest for life, against the beautiful backdrop of a seaside cinema. It was so nearly the film I wanted it to be, a love letter to the film industry -specifically the cinema experience. Instead, we spend a little too much time exploring Hilary’s mental health, when there is a whole cast of characters in the cinema that I wanted to know more about, particularly Norman the projectionist (Toby Jones). 

Sam Mendes managed to succeed in making me nostalgic for an era of cinema, that as a twenty-something year old, I never really knew. Cinemas in the UK only went fully digital around 2013, which shocked me, so up until then there was still a projectionist keeping our films playing. I’m all about technology and couldn’t live without digital streaming, but something about watching Toby Jones’ character setting up a film reel, waiting for the black spots to appear so he can swap the projectors and give Hilary her first seamless cinema experience, just feels so much more romantic. 

That romance is the heart of Empire of Light and aesthetically it’s perfect. The regulars, the staff, the old building, all the things make me feel nostalgic for my own local cinema, not an empire, but the same cinema I’ve been going to since I can remember. This is a film for the fans, not the critics. 

As well as the beautiful moments, such as the new year’s eve fireworks on the roof of the cinema, there’s also some tough scenes during a far-right march and Stephen getting attacked. It does take you out of the magic that the first half of the film spent building up, but stick with it because the chemistry between Olivia Colman and Michael Ward is worth it. 

Post a Comment

© The Northern Film Blog. Design by FCD.