Empire of Light (2022) Movie Reviews – Sam Mendes is the writer and director of the 2022 romantic drama movie Empire of Light. Colin Firth, Michael Ward, Monica Dolan, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Crystal Clarke, and Olivia Colman are among the actors who appear in the movie.
Empire of Light had its international premiere on September 3, 2022, at the Telluride Film Festival. It was released on December 9, 2022, in the United States and will be released on January 9, 2023, in the United Kingdom by Searchlight Pictures. Critics gave the movie a variety of ratings.
Empire of Light: The Plot
In the early 1980s, Hilary (Olivia Colman) manages an outdated movie theatre in a seaside town in England. She has a gentle voice and gives the impression that she is in good shape to those around her. In the meantime, Hilary is battling her inner demons as she deals with her mental health problems.
Stephen (Michael Ward), a new employee, begins working at the theatre, but he longs to leave the little town and the racism he encounters there. Stephen and Hilary grow to love and affection for one another and experience a sense of community together. However, it won’t be long before their individual conflicts interfere.
“Empire of Light” Movie Reviews
The action takes place in the seaside town of Margate, Kent, during the fall and winter of 1980–1981 and revolves around a grand two-screen Art Deco theatre that screens films that were groundbreaking at the time, such as “Raging Bull,” “Stir Crazy,” and “9 to 5,” which inspired young Mendes to write some of the scripts. The end product keeps giving off the impression that it’s about to fully commit to being yet another “Behold The Magic of the Movies” movie (we get a few of those a year, at least; film awards voters like them) as well as a quasi-memoir that gives an established director’s work a new frame.
Additionally, “Empire of Light” contains a lot of indicators in the first third that the movie will amount to little more than a self-aggrandizing Oscar campaign. Toby Jones plays a projectionist who talks about the persistence of vision and how light may block out darkness while demonstrating how a projector operates. Hilary Small (Olivia Colman), a lonely, overworked duty manager, is constantly being urged by colleagues to occasionally sit in an auditorium and let movies take her away from her problems.
Mendes and his cinematographer Roger Deakins use the panoramic screen shape to illustrate how common lives develop amid a historical environment that the small characters in the foreground cannot completely comprehend. The issue is that, at first, all the characters—not just Hilary—are written as small figurines of “ordinary people,” which would come off as condescending if the actors hadn’t given them life through their body language and intonation, as well as if Mendes and Deakins hadn’t carefully framed and lit them.
Hilary is seen fighting back her tears to joke around with the employees, engaging in an inappropriate sexual contact with her married boss Mr. Ellis (Colin Firth), dining alone, walking alone, and sitting alone in her apartment, as well as sliding into a tub and being submerged.
She instantly clicks with her newest trainee, a charming and attractive young Black man called Stephen (Michael Ward), and we know a revitalising office romance is just around the way. The character of Ward, who is entertaining, humorous, and up for anything, is wise about how brutally post-Thatcher England handles people like him. Ward lends a Sidney Poitier fire from the early 1960s to the role.
But he is an abstraction for far too long; it appears that the movie is using him more as a story device than as a real person. The dialogue makes reference to racist occurrences that had just happened at the time, and the movie trembles with warnings of Stephen’s approaching death. But Mendes exhibits the same disconnected gaze that stops Hillary in her tracks when she witnesses skinheads abusing Stephen on a sidewalk as he expresses his rage, anxiety, and misery.
The narration is disjointed in this scene, as it is in other scenes of the movie. Additionally, it appears less relaxed than it does, eager to ramble on for rhetorical effect. Because the film doesn’t want to give you too much information too soon, you can’t tell if a scene appears rote, underwritten, or flat, or if it’s one of those movies that can’t determine what to do with itself.
However, “Empire of Light” eventually settles into a rhythm and maintains it. The positive change is so swift and sure-footed that you might wonder why the movie didn’t lay out all its major narrative and characterization cards in the first few minutes and get right to the interesting stuff: the conflict between the social duty to assist those who are troubled or in need and the collateral damage that frequently results when the assisters fail to recognise that their own compulsions are also at play.
Snippets of biographical information are provided in the opening few scenes, but they aren’t sensitively and thoroughly examined until later. A lot of the early scenes read like a compendium of Sad Single Lady movie clichés because Hilary, for example, is on Lithium and had to take a year’s worth of leave from work due to health issues. Without an immediate, layered portrayal of these elements.
The movie leads us to believe that Stephen is the kind of outsider who’s too good for this world and who is bright yet opaque. His mother, a hardworking single parent who has been a nurse for decades and educated her son that he has a moral obligation to heal injured creatures, is the most significant person in his life (such as the pigeon with a broken wing that he tends in an early scene with Hilary).
It doesn’t take a therapist to understand how these two came to be together, much less realise that their relationship can’t and shouldn’t endure given the forces at play in each of their minds.
It’s not surprising that “Empire of Light” works best when it’s just observing Hilary’s behaviour (and Colman’s acting) because Mendes has stated that Hilary is based partly on his own mother. Depending on whether Hilary is alone in a scene or is in a scenario with others, the filming gently changes points of view. Sometimes we’re in her head or on her shoulder, feeling what she feels and cheering for her to impose a story on her life that will restore her dignity and resolve her issues by making her the protagonist of a movie she’s heard about but hasn’t watched.
Sometimes, though, we’re more in Stephen’s brain than that of another theatre employee, such as Tom Brooke’s chatty, nosy Neil, who deduces what’s going on between Stephen and Hilary. We are aware of the chaos in her life and that most of the other characters aren’t exactly role models of tranquillity and stability.
Colman gives Hilary her normal richness and immaculate judgement, focusing all of her efforts on evoking the character’s conflicted emotions rather than employing the showy techniques and mannerisms that all too frequently denote Great Screen Acting: English Division. The sight pierces as deeply as watching someone you know crumble in front of you when Hilary is at her lowest point, tears in her eyes and lipstick on her teeth.
Due to the inferior quality of the cloth, Ward cannot match her, yet he is still impressive. His biggest accomplishment is persuading you that the character has an inner life that is just as complicated as Hilary’s, despite the script’s lack of explicit evidence to that effect. All the progress made in the film’s second half is practically undone in the final 15 minutes, which seems to be Mendes’ attempt to forcibly meld the character study, historical/political epic, and Magic of Cinema aspects that had been running concurrently up to that point. Fortunately, the movie is saved by its climactic sequences, which opt for a “life goes on” kind of conclusion.
Even though “Empire of Light” never quite gels, it’s still worth watching for the strength of Colman’s main performance and the finely tuned supporting performances (by Firth especially; Ellis is a minor-league scumbag with delusions of respectability, and the actor presents him without editorial comment, which makes his actions feel more real).
However, Roger Deakins, who has progressively evolved into the closest thing to a Gordon Willis heir that modern filmmaking has allowed, is the real star of the picture. Deakins enjoys silhouettes, lengthy shadows, and high-contrast lighting, just like Willis, who is most renowned for directing the “Godfather” movies and several vintage paranoid thrillers.
He isn’t hesitant to try to make a memorable, obscenely powerful image, but in this case—playing in a softer key than he’s typically asked to—he seems to let the natural world influence his choices. The movie’s visual style errs on the side of simplicity, emphasising beauty that already exists rather than introducing new techniques or technology.
There aren’t any boring or just functional compositions in the movie, and none try to be so profound that they demolish Mendes’ wilting-flower characters. Deakins uses support struts, roof eaves, stairwell rails, door and window frames, as well as the lines of sidewalks and streets, to direct our gaze and create frames within frames.
The film even attempts multi-panel effects, such as a line of thematically related paintings hanging on a gallery wall. It smears tiny grace notes into each scene, leaving us to discover them on our own, seemingly unconcerned that we might miss them. For instance, note how he and Mendes will insert a reflective surface into the frame so that we can see the faces of people in the front but facing away from the camera. Because the other character’s reflection isn’t always visible, but only occasionally, as a real person would be, you might not immediately notice it.