Home Empire Of Light

Empire Of Light (15)

Cast: Colin Firth, Micheal Ward, Olivia Colman, Toby Jones
Genre: Drama
Author(s): Sam Mendes
Director: Sam Mendes
Release Date: 09/01/2023
Running Time: 115mins
Country: UK/US
Year: 2022

In December 1980, The Blues Brothers and All That Jazz play on the two remaining screens of the Empire cinema managed by Donald Ellis. He is embroiled in a grubby affair with duty manager Hilary Small behind the back of his wife Brenda. A new member of staff called Stephen jolts Hilary out of her rut. Donald excitedly reveals the cinema will host the regional gala premiere of Chariots Of Fire and Hilary and Stephen join other purple-uniformed staff in sprucing up the place.


LondonNet Film Review

Empire Of Light (15) Film Review from LondonNet

Writer-director Sam Mendes’ unabashed love letter to the moving image unfolds in a fading picture house on the English coast in the early 1980s when an adult ticket cost £1.50 and a box of Maltesers from the concessions stand would set you back two shiny 10p pieces. On the big screen, the Elwood brothers played by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd loudly preached Everybody Needs Somebody To Love and on the streets of Thatcherite Britain, the National Front clashed violently with police…

Racial tensions provide the hastily sketched backdrop to Mendes’ intimate character study informed by memories of his mother’s struggles with mental illness, necessitating an abrupt change of tone for the second half that hinges on a dazzling central performance from Oscar-winner Olivia Colman. She is perpetually luminous when Mendes’ script feels dim and unfocused, navigating mood swings of a diagnosed schizophrenic who stops taking her prescribed lithium and spirals in front of the one person who genuinely cares about her. A workplace romance with co-star Micheal Ward is artfully shot but his character is underwritten and Mendes barely scratches the surface of bigotry and intolerance of the era.

Empire Of Light opens in late December 1980. The Blues Brothers and All That Jazz are playing on the two remaining screens of a cinema managed by Donald Ellis (Colin Firth). An art deco chandelier and faded murals hint at the building’s glorious past and an inscription on one wall – “Find where light in darkness lies” – feels like a futile exercise for duty manager Hilary Small (Colman). She is embroiled in a grubby affair with her boss behind the back of his wife Brenda (Sara Stewart). “We’ve been sleeping in different rooms since last summer,” Donald assures Hilary. “She won’t even make me a cup of tea.”

A new member of staff called Stephen (Ward) jolts Hilary out of her rut. He introduces her to two-tone music and shares details about his life such as a burning desire to study architecture. “No one’s going to give you the life you want, you have to go out and get it,” Hilary encourages him. Donald excitedly reveals the cinema will host the regional gala premiere of Chariots Of Fire and Hilary and Stephen join other purple-uniformed staff in sprucing up the place while projectionist Norman (Toby Jones) eagerly awaits the arrival of film canisters.

Empire Of Light is a valentine to the communal experience of cinemagoing. Colman is terrific and Jones casts a warm, avuncular glow in the projection booth, preaching about the flaw in the optic nerve that creates the illusion of motion when a film runs at 24 frames per second. “An illusion of life,” he gushes. That feels like a fitting summary of Mendes’ beautifully crafted but tonally uneven picture.

– Jo Planter


Popular on LondonNet


London Cinemas Showing Empire Of Light


From: Friday 12th July
To: Thursday 18th July

No cinema infomation at the moment

From: Friday 19th July
To: Thursday 25th July

No cinema infomation at the moment

UK and Irish Cinemas Showing Empire Of Light


From: Friday 12th July
To: Thursday 18th July

No cinema infomation at the moment

From: Friday 19th July
To: Thursday 25th July

No cinema infomation at the moment