Empire of Light (2022) - 9/10
Coastal towns have a unique atmosphere don’t they. They’re separated somehow. In space and time. They make the perfect setting for something special. We begin here with Hilary (Olivia Coleman) opening up a beautiful seafront cinema on a snowy morning, as a beautiful piano melody from Reznor & Ross ushers us in. Directed by Sam Mendes and shot by Roger Deakins, my expectations are already dangerously high, but I needn’t be worried. Shot in Margate, it looks more beautiful than Margate has any right to. There’s an instant sadness though. Hilary is alone, on lithium and feeling “a bit numb”. Not helped by giving hand jobs to Colin Firth in his office at the cinema. He’s Donald and he shouldn’t be making these demands of Hilary, being married an’ all. The cinema is the hub, with a cast who all work there in matching 80s outfits. Well aside Norman (Toby Jones) who’s the projectionist. There’s a new boy starting though, Stephen (Michael Ward). He sees the magic and potential in things, in places, maybe in Hilary. Coleman is of course wonderful, but everyone is. Rarely do you get a cast where everyone is perfect, not only in themselves, but more importantly together. Hilary and Stephen connect. They’re both isolated. Hilary by events we’ve not witnessed. Stephen by racism we do. Despite this dark underbelly. This really is a gorgeous film. The people, well those we care about, the cinema, the score. It’s an entire world. It’s magic and highly emotional stuff. Coleman is a powerhouse. Can anyone smile and convey pain so well? Together with Ward. This is a love letter to the power of good people, of not giving up, of cinema. Just beautiful.