Director: Sam Mendes | Script: Sam Mendes | Cast: Olivia Colman (Hilary), Michael Ward (Stephen), Toby Jones (Norman), Colin Firth (Donald), Tom Brooke (Neil), ea | Time to play: 115 minutes | Year: 2022
After the epic of the revolving war 1917 features British director and screenwriter Sam Mendes with the bittersweet drama empire of light from a completely different container. Lead actress Olivia Colman, as always, steals the spotlight in a melancholic film about two strangers who meet in a dilapidated cinema on the south coast of England.
You don’t have to look long at Hilary to see that she’s not happy. As her movie colleagues joke with each other, she stares sadly ahead. She has an affair with her manager, but there is no love or lust. When the few visitors have left the theater, she crawls between the seats to pick up the trash. Hilary, as she can see between the lines during a doctor’s visit, isn’t quite the person she once was.
That changes when Stephen, much younger, arrives to work at the movies. Stephen is still at the beginning of it all and dreams of a career as an architect, which has an infectious effect on Hilary. And like her, he is a stranger. As a black boy, he doesn’t have it easy in a community that isn’t free of racism. The two find solace in each other, perhaps something more than just friendship will blossom.
The film primarily takes place in and around a cinema, which works well as a microcosm to situate a story. Hilary’s colleagues make up a colorful collection of supporting characters, most notably Toby Jones as the extremely confident but gentle operator Norman. It also looks fantastic, by the way, such an old dream palace by the sea.
empire of light It has a nice, relaxed pace. The serene piano sounds of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross help with that. And with the camerawork by Roger Deakins, it all looks very beautiful. The warm glow of old-fashioned neon lamps against a night sky, the diffused light of a leaden-gray sky over the sea through which the sun barely pierces: there are few who capture it as powerfully as he does.
It is not free of clichés and sentimentality. Cinema as a window to the world, the purifying power of cinema; we have seen it many times. Like the two wandering souls, seemingly so different, who find solace in each other. An older woman with mental problems and a black boy harassed by racism: it is immediately seen how such a release is well received by film producers in 2023.
Without Olivia Colman empire of light however, it can become quite a monotonous situation. No matter how many times you’ve seen her do it, it’s still impressive how she can suggest a stormy inner world with a look or half a smile.