Empire of Light - Review (London Film Festival 2022)
Where Light in Darkness Lies. 4 / 5
Directed by Sam Mendes.
A love story set in and around an old cinema, on the South Coast of England in the 1980s.
Releases in UK Cinemas: January 13th 2023
In a much more personal film compared to Sam Mendes' other work, Empire of Light has moments of cinematic perfection but suffers from an identity crisis as it jumps between its many themes.
Set in 1980s Margate, everything about the film feels profoundly British from the awkward cinema etiquette to the apologetic kindness. But although the initial marketing focuses heavily on this being a film that celebrates film - there's much more to it which is actually where the foundations begin to crumble.
Empire of Light is a celebration of art, it’s a story about mental illness, it's about finding romance in unexpected places, it's a social commentary of its setting, but by not focusing on one of these strands it does a disservice to them all and weakens the final product.
The screenplay is by far the weakest element of the film but it's proof that with the right team, you can make something worthy out of the mundane. Olivia Colman and Michael Ward light up the screen and are backed up by a supporting cast of some of Britain's finest. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver another punchy score and Roger Deakins continues to prove why he is the master, although there is only so much you can do with the Kent seaside.
But despite the mess, Empire of Light actually won me over in the end as unsurprisingly I am a sucker for the power of escapism through film - Toby Jones' monologue as he describes the attention and care that goes into the art of film projection, watching that in a packed cinema was just pure magic.
All the right pieces are there, but Sam Mendes struggles to put them together coherently producing very mixed results.