The Reel Review
Two movie theater employees, one haunted by mental health struggles, the other by a lifetime of racism, form an unlikely May-December romance in this drama from director Sam Mendes (1917, Skyfall). Set on the English coast in the early 1980s, Oscar winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite) and Micheal Ward star in this poignant story about the transformative power of forging human connections in the most unlikely of circumstances – and places.
Astoundingly, Colman delivers yet another career defining performance – so incredibly nuanced and deeply intimate – as a shy woman afraid to allow herself to pursue happiness. Prior to meeting Micheal Ward’s Stephen, Hilary’s prior relationships were limited to quickie hookups with her married boss (Colin Firth, at his creepiest) in his office and cordial but distant friendships with her co-workers – among the standouts, a terrific Toby Jones as the wise, world-weary projectionist and Tom Brooke (The Crown, Bodyguard) as Neil, who quietly and consistently looks out for his friend.
At its heart, Empire of Light is a rare unicorn in these modern times – a tender movie about life and relationships. A stirring piano score from Oscar-winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Soul, The Social Network) and evocative visuals from Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (1917, Blade Runner 2049) paint an almost poetic time capsule – a beautiful, moving portrait. Bring tissues.
• Although this is Sam Mendes’ ninth film as a director, it is the first time directing from a screenplay he solely wrote himself.
• Empire of Light is the fifth collaboration between writer/director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins after 2005’s Jarhead, 2008’s Revolutionary Road, 2012’s Skyfall and 2019’s 1917. Deakins has been nominated for a whopping 15 Oscars for Best Cinematography (Sicario, True Grit, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption), winning two – for 1917 and Blade Runner 2049.
• Jamaican-British actor Micheal Ward (The Old Guard), a former model, won BAFTA’s 2020 Rising Star Award.