After two James Bond films and the war drama "1917", the British director and Oscar winner Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") takes things much more calmly in his new work. "Empire Of Light" is a melancholic, thoughtful and very slow movie. In it, the 57-year-old Mendes highlights Britain at the beginning of the Thatcher era.
The year 1980 in the seaside town of Margate. Hilary (Olivia Colman) works at the once glamorous Empire cinema, whose best times are long past. Hilary suffers from bipolar disorder. She lives alone but has an affair with her married boss.
When new hire Stephen (Micheal Ward) starts working at the cinema, he and the much older Hilary embark on a romance under difficult circumstances. While struggling with her own psyche and severe mood swings, Black Stephen is repeatedly subjected to nasty racist attacks.
"Empire Of Light" is many things, maybe too much - an unhappy romance, a social drama, a portrait of a tumultuous era and a character study of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Mendes says he dedicated the film to his mother, who suffered from mental health problems. Oscar winner Olivia Colman ("The Favorite - Intrigue and Madness") is convincing in her role.
The cinema connects them all
"Empire Of Light" is also a declaration of love for cinema. The beautiful but deteriorating theater is what ties all of the film's characters together, including Colin Firth as Hilary's boss Donald Ellis and Toby Jones as grumpy projectionist Norman.
Double Academy Award winner Roger Deakins' ("Blade Runner 2049", "1917") beautifully nostalgic images are a treat for the eyes and the best advertisement for the town of Margate, where time seems to have stood still. Compared to other films by Sam Mendes, however, "Empire Of Light" doesn't leave a lasting impression.
Empire Of Light, UK 2023, 113 Min., FSK 12, von Sam Mendes, mit Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth, Toby Jones
Empire Of Light