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Empire of Light

Opening Date
23 Feb 2023
NC16 Some Sexual Scenes
115 mins
English with Chinese subtitles
Drama, Romance
Sam Mendes
Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Crystal Clarke, Tanya Moodie
From Academy Award®-winning director and writer Sam Mendes, EMPIRE OF LIGHT is a moving drama about the power of human connection during turbulent times. Set in and around a faded old cinema in an English coastal town in the early 1980s, it follows Hilary (Olivia Colman) a cinema manager struggling with her mental health, and Stephen (Micheal Ward), a new employee who longs to escape this provincial town in which he faces daily adversity. Both Hilary and Stephen find a sense of belonging through their unlikely and tender relationship and come to experience the healing power of music, cinema, and community.
By InCinemas  17 Feb 2023
A visual feast that is hard to resist. 
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A most solemn addition to writer-director Sam Mendes filmography, Empire of Light is a romantic drama set in an English coastal town in the early 1980s, about the power of human connection during turbulent times. It stars Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Monica Dolan, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Crystal Clarke, Toby Jones, and Colin Firth.

Hilary Small (Colman), duty manager at the "Empire Cinema", struggles with bipolar disorder, lives alone, and is having extramarital sex with her boss Donald Ellis (Firth). Enter Stephen, a Black British new employee at the cinema. Hilary and Stephen begin a relationship but find it difficult to deal with the racism Stephen experiences from locals, as well as Hilary's past relationships.

Empire of Light is a beautiful exploration of light and dark, from its characters to its themes and technical executions. It touches on multiple topics, ranging from mental illness to interracial romance in its 115-minute runtime, but Mendes' ambition proves prerilous as he struggles to coherently bind them together with substantial depth. Much of the heavy subject matter feel very touch-and-go with Mendes not giving much profound insight on his characters’ lives. 

Despite the muddled screenplay, stars Colman and Ward give their all in delivering powerful performances as Hilary and Stephen respectively. It goes without saying that Colman is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to being both funny and dramatic but it's her ability to exude the pained quiet loneliness that’s most heartbreaking yet beautiful here. Ward is a natural talent as the young Stephen, forging a beautiful bond with Colman and holding himself well against the Oscar winner.

While Mendes may not be consistent with his narrative, acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins is always on point with his offerings. His work on the film is stunning composition one after the other, making it almost worthy as a good silent film based on cinematography alone. We say almost because we can’t discount Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ lovely score that flawlessly melds with the breathtaking imagery. The sense of serenity and sadness in the audiovisual plays well into the emotionality of the film.

Mendes’ ode to cinema may not be as grand as Damien Chazelle’s Babylon or Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans but Empire of Light is a visual feast that is hard to resist. 
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