Empire of the Light Review Starring Olivia Colman Directed by Sam Mendes

MA, 119 minutes
Theatrical release on March 2nd

The Empire at the heart of Sam Mendes’ film is an old-fashioned picture palace on the seafront in the southern English town of Margate.

Its heyday is long past. The upstairs lounge is derelict – a roost for the pigeons that have found a way through the gaps in the roof and windows – but the place’s art deco glory lives on in the cinemas downstairs.

Mendes is the third writer-director in recent months to ponder the alluring nature of the big screen and the stories that unfold there. But he follows a different path than Spielberg The Fabelmans and Damien Chazelles Babylon.

Olivia Colman's role as Hilary has turned out to be one of the best things she's ever done.

Olivia Colman’s role as Hilary has turned out to be one of the best things she’s ever done.Credit:

He is not interested in the creators of these mercury paintings. Nor does he approach his subject from the front floor. His focus is on the Empire’s staff — a small group of individualists who have formed a family of sorts as they sell tickets, serve popcorn, and ensure the theater’s meetings are on time.

Despite the pomposity of their boss, Donald Ellis (Colin Firth at his worst), the Empire is their home. The only real movie fan among them, however, is projectionist Norman (Toby Jones). Towards the end of the film, he delivers the screenplay’s only homage to the magic of cinema: “…when I run the film at 24 frames per second, you don’t see the darkness… Looking at static images in quick succession creates an illusion of movement , an illusion of life.”

The keywords here are darkness and life. The film’s mood swings between the two, reflecting the volatile emotional state of Empire’s front-of-house executive Hilary (Olivia Colman), whose battle with bipolar disorder, we’re told, was inspired by psychiatric struggles was among those Mendes’ mother, Valerie.

Mendes grew up in Britain in the early 1980s and has referenced his screenplay to the defining elements of the decade. The music of the era spices up the soundtrack, while fashion, pop culture and the political climate play their part. There are none of the soft edges that afflict so many nostalgia films. It is lit and photographed with superb clarity by Roger Deakins, who was nominated for an Oscar.

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/movies/this-could-be-olivia-colman-s-finest-role-yet-20230301-p5cofy.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Empire of the Light Review Starring Olivia Colman Directed by Sam Mendes

Jaclyn Diaz

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