Review: Lonely Souls At The Cinema In ‘Empire Of Light

Olivia Colman plays a theater manager in Sam Mendes' new film Empire of Light. It's a cinema in a small town on the south coast of England that is getting old. The once grand establishment used to show movies on multiple screens on multiple floors. The top floor even had a grand ballroom, a grand piano, a luxurious bar and booths with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea. Going to the movies here, as you can imagine, must be an occasion worth dressing up for. But now it just collects dust and houses domestic pigeons.

However, this is not a movie for people who watch movies. At least not literally. There's an intense talk from Toby Jones about how the show works, another about how movies can be a refuge, and of course it all boils down to something. But for the most part, the movies are just a fascinating backdrop to a depressing workplace. Instead, Empire of Light is about a few people who run movie theaters, take tickets, and collect popcorn and other disgusting things that people leave on the floor and seats.

Hilary, Coleman's character, doesn't even watch movies. A customer service representative on the night shift passionately explains to customers. It's not clear if it's always been this way, or if it's the lithium her doctor prescribed to lift her mood, but her life goes through the motions, whether it's setting up the candy bar or going to the back room with him. . Punk, the married boss (Colin Firth is awfully good).

There's a tremendous sadness to the whole endeavor, beautifully captured by Roger Deakins, and it's like saying goodbye to something. Mendes, who also wrote the screenplay, was inspired by an important period in his life. Empire of Light takes place in the early days of Margaret Thatcher's career as Prime Minister, when the country's culture seemed somewhat fractured, violence and racism on the rise, and art and music extraordinary. I was a teenager then.

But this is not the time for Fabelman or Armageddon. Mendes was not introduced as a teenager in the title role, but as a middle-aged woman with mental health problems and the magnetic black Steven (an excellent performance by Michael Ward), very smart and energetic. for that purpose. regional city. Hilary and Steven become friends and then lovers, but, you know, it's awkward and the movie is a little painful to get where it's going.

You have to respect Mendez and all these masters, from Dickens to songwriters Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, for coming together for Empire of Light, which even for the guy who made Skyfall seems incredible. A film to be made: original, quiet, elegant. But "Empire of Light" is also easy to love but hard to love. While Coleman is always great, Hilary still seems like a mystery. I'm not even sure what to wish her other than better mental health, which probably won't come in the form of going to the movies, although that's a romantic idea.

Empire of Light may be a love letter to cinema, but it's sad because one party's home-grown independent cinema is fading and may already be gone.

"Empire of Light," which opened in theaters Friday from Searchlight Pictures, received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association for "sexual content, language and brief violence." Duration: 119 minutes. Four to two and a half stars.

MPA definition of R. Limited. Children under 17 need an accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Follow AP staff writer Lindsay Bahr on Twitter at

If these moments were not filmed, no one would believe them.

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