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Empire of Light


Stars: Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Sara Stewart, Ron Cook

Director: Sam Mendes

Mendes' new feature sounds like a fantasy action film; instead it proves to be a melancholy period piece with affectionate and warm overtones.

Virtually a solo show for the multi-talented Colman, who's poignantly terrific, it centres on a plush but failing cinema (exterior locations at Dreamland Cinema, Margate) on the Kent coast of the 1980s, where Hilary (Colman) works as duty manager and jill-of-all-trades when she's not gratifying the sexual needs of the manager (a sad Firth), who trades on the fact that, despite her known mental health problems, he has given her gainful employment.

But Hilary, a borderline schizophrenic, is trying to get better and, behind everyone's back, she starts a passionate affair with the new usher Stephen (Ward) who, being black, has his own problems with a big gang of local skinheads.

Although the constant swearing may be a bit much for sensitive ears, the bleak atmosphere of the Kent coast at the time is immaculately caught and, if a tragic ending looks inevitable after Hilary is taken back into care, there's a bitter-sweet finale that strikes just the right note.

Another exceptional performance is given by the diminutive Jones as the lonely projectionist who takes Stephen under his wing. Colman's film, though; more awards beckon.

David Quinlan

UK 2023. UK Distributor: Disney (Searchlight). Colour by Company 3 .
115 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 05 Jan 2023