The movie Empire Of Light takes a look behind the beam of light that brings us movie wonder, and what a wonderful movie it is. Heartwarming and thought-provoking, Colman banks another believable character.
Set in the 1980’s in an English seaside town we met Hilary (Olivia Colman), a mature woman working on the ticket counter at the Empire Theatre. The art deco theatre has seen better days, however there’s still just enough glamour left to reminds us of its past glory.
As Hilary stands in the glass ticketing booth looking out at the beachside boulevard, it’s not hard to imagine her inner dialogue. Like the theatre her spark appears dulled.
Hilary is part of a small team of staff including Neil (Tom Brooke), Janine (Hannah Onslow), projectionist Norm (Toby Jones) and manager Donald Ellis (Colin Firth). Life moves to a routine beat for the team, until new employee Stephen (Michael Ward) arrives.
As the unlikely partnership progresses between Hilary and Stephen, she reminds him that “no one is going to give you the life you want, you have to go out and get it.” The tenderness and compassion they share provides no hint of what’s to come.
Empire Of Light is a reminder of the escapist world movies provide. As projectionist Norm explains the beam of light from the projector and a trick of the eye means you “don’t see the darkness” between the images. What appears to be a throwaway line takes on immense meaning later in the movie.
The movie explores societal expectations, friendship and not giving up. It also looks at racism and mental health but not in the usual forced way, the story is enough on its own.
Colman and Ward were delightful together. Anyone who grew up listening to Ska or Two-tone music, like me, will love the trip down memory lane. Thank you Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the flashback. Roger Deakins does a brilliant job of cinematography to take us back to the 80’s.
Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes? Well he’s provided a heartwarming, thoughtful ode to movie magic. I also need to thank Mendes for ‘The Trees’ poem by Philip Larkin which goes something like, “last year is dead, they seem to say, Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.” I’m determined to keep this message close to my heart when I see the seasonal leaves falling;
This movie is one to add to the growing list of story-driven delights. I’ve added it to The Whale and Living as my top movies so far. What a treat.
In cinemas now. For more information go to Luna Cinema.