Empire of Light is the newest movie written and directed by Sam Mendes. Set in an English coastal town, the story is about the people that work in the Empire cinema. The official blurb is:
“A drama about the power of human connection during turbulent times, set in an English coastal town in the early 1980s.”
I will admit, I didn’t read that before going into the movie, so I had no idea what to expect. I went in thinking it was more about the cinema rather than the people, and because of this I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I should have.
Empire of Light stars Olivia Coleman, Toby Jones, Michael Ward, Colin Firth, Tom Brooke, and Hannah Onslow.
Don’t get me wrong, Mendes is a great director and always turns out a great movie, and this is a great movie. The story, however, just wasn’t aimed at me. I was hoping the movie would be focused on the cinema itself, but this is more of a romantic drama.
The main focus is Hilary, brilliantly played by Coleman, who is the duty manager at the Empire. Her life is quiet. She enjoys her job. Things take a different turn when Stephen, played by Ward, gets a job at the cinema.
He’s a young black man who has to face racism on a daily basis. And here, racism is genuine racism. The movie is set in a coastal town in the UK in the early 1980s. At that time in the UK, in a lot of places, there wasn’t a lot of diversity. There was a lot of prejudice towards certain races.
This isn’t a preachy movie. It is not the usual kind of handling of this subject matter. It just shows the genuine struggle some people faced. Hilary starts a passionate love affair with Stephen. The main problem is that Hilary’s quiet life is plagued with mental issues, to the point where she has another breakdown. This leads to problems at work and problems with Stephen.
I’m only telling you the tip of the iceberg here. There is a lot more going on in Empire of Light. It gets brutal, in one scene in particular.
As I said, I was hoping this movie was more focused on the cinema, like Cinema Paradiso, but it was more about the people. Unfortunately this just didn’t hold my interest. Maybe if I went in expecting a romantic drama I might have had a different opinion.
I’m not sure who Empire of Light is aimed at. On the one hand, I think it’s a personal project to Mendes, much like The Fablemans was to Spielberg. The problem with that is that you’re aiming it at a very small niche of viewers. I imagine my mum would like this movie.
I’m giving Empire of Light a middle-of-the-road score. The direction and acting are very good, but the story just wasn’t for me. I’m sure some people will enjoy it, but it’s not the kind of thing I would watch again.
Empire Of Light is now streaming on HBO Max.
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