Empire of Light – The DVDfever Cinema Review – Olivia Colman

Empire of Light Empire of Light takes us back to 1980, and to the Empire Cinema in Margate (normally the Dreamland Margate cinema), which we first see in 1980, the year of which I could tell because they’re showing The Blues Brothers and All That Jazz, as well as the obvious decor of the era.

The film’s opening gambit also shows the staff clearing up after a busy night, and comparing things found amongst the cinema seats after a film ended. Hilary (Olivia ColmanThe Lost Daughter) trumps everyone by telling them she once found a dead body!

But life isn’t dealing her a good turn, leading to her spending Christmas Day all by herself, later showing her visiting the doctor because she’s on lithium for depression, although it probably doesn’t help that she has rather an unconventional relationship with her boss.

The Empire very much reminds me of the Davenport Cinema in Stockport (also see here), before – as Joni Mitchell would have observed – they paved paradise, put up a parking lot, because my old school, Stockport Grammar, bought it out (it had long since fallen out of favour, given the rise of the multiplex in the ’90s), and the irony is that I went to see this film in a multiplex, specifically the Cineworld in Didsbury.

That one had just two screens like this one appears to do, yet it actually has four, but Nos.3 and 4 are disused, and we see Hilary showing new recruit Stephen (Micheal WardTop Boy) around, early into his tenure.

In fact, this place is a cinema I’d love to go to. I know they’ve refurnished the Rex in Wilmslow, but I haven’t been as the Cineworld and Odeon are far more convenient, especially for parking, myself having recently returned to Cineworld in August 2022 after 20 years 6 months, probably almost exactly. And I go regularly, but that’s because mobile phone service Three offer regular weekend cinema tickets for just £3.

Davenport Theatre – Ian Grundy (c) 2013

Along the way, the new year breaks and we’re into 1981, but once the ’80s nostalgia wears off, Empire Of Light is a fairly basic drama, except that Hilary has a lot of medical issues, which I don’t want to spoil here.

However, as pleasant as a lot of this is, when it comes to the topic of cinema, with Toby Jones‘ (The Pale Blue Eye) projectionist character Norman saying it’s just a series of static images seen in motion, that’s down to a flaw in the optic nerve, along with others using similarly gushing phrases, it comes across more like a lecture than a film, as if someone sat down writing in three-foot-high letters of fire, “THIS IS CINEMA! WE ARE TALKING CINEMA, NOW! ARE YOU LISTENING?”

Similarly, when it comes to the topic of racist skinheads, and talk of Thatcher, the script is so generic, they may as well do the same with, “THIS IS RACISM! WE ARE DOING RACISM, NOW! ARE YOU WATCHING?!”

Given the lack of money Sam Mendes spent on his screen, they should’ve spent it doing up the floor with screens 3 and 4. That would’ve been much more inviting, That said, he probably doesn’t care, since Empire Of Light is likely to lead the awards because it’s a film about cinema, just like Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, even though neither deserve such accolades.

Olivia Colman is great as always, Micheal Ward is fine, but most of the rest don’t get nearly enough to do, to make their mark.

However, I was impressed with seeing some 1980s Tupperware boxes, as I remember those from when I was a kid, and haven’t seen them since. We also see an episode of Blankety Blank on a TV, showing an episode with Diana Dors and Normal Collier. Which was nice.

So, that’s what Empire of Light is.

What’s it not? Cinema Paradiso. Not by a long chalk.

Empire of Light is in cinemas now, but is not yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.

Empire of Light – Official Trailer – Searchlight Picures

Detailed specs:

Running time: 115 minutes
Release date: January 13th 2023
Studio: Searchlight Picures
Format: 2.39:1 (ARRIRAW 4.5K)
Cinema: Cineworld Didsbury
Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Sam Mendes
Producers: Pippa Harris, Sam Mendes
Screenplay: Sam Mendes
Music: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Hilary: Olivia Colman
Stephen: Micheal Ward
Donald Ellis: Colin Firth
Norman: Toby Jones
Neil: Tom Brooke
Delia: Tanya Moodie
Janine: Hannah Onslow
Ruby: Crystal Clarke
Rosemary Bates: Monica Dolan
Mr. Cooper: Ron Cook
Brenda Ellis: Sara Stewart
Jim Booth: Justin Edwards
Frankie: Roman Hayeck-Green
Brian: Brian Fletcher
Finn: Dougie Boyall
Doctor Laird: William Chubb
Mikey: Spike Leighton
Colin: Jacob Avery
Sean: Jamie Whitelaw
Pogo: Dylan Blore
Bill: Adrian McLoughlin
Mr Podd: DJ Bailey
Paramedic: Tom Colley
Ballroom Instructor: Mark Goldthorp
Mayor: Rod Arthur
Constable Bramah: Mark Field
Receiving Doctor: Tim Samuels
Nurse: Dawn Murphy
Trevor: Ashleigh Reynolds
Martin: George Whitehead
Chas: Sam Boskovic