Sam Mendes’ new drama focuses on human connection, in a film which makes you forget you are in the cinema, says Times Film Reviewer Matthew Dann…
According to Quentin Tarantino, ‘there are very few perfect films’ – but I would consider ‘Empire of Light’, by director Sam Mendes to be one of them.
Set in the 1980s in the Kent seaside town of Margate (and filmed on location there) it is both a tribute to Mendes’ mother and a love letter to cinema by arguably the best British director of his generation.
Mendes is an expert behind the camera. Every shot of this film has purpose, with period-perfect lighting design that adds to the atmosphere and drama of the piece.
The musical score (by Oscar-winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, of Nine Inch Nails fame) was one of the finest I’ve heard in a cinema for a long time.
And then there is the cast.
Olivia Colman, as Hilary, shows why she truly is one of the greatest actors of our time. Her performance throughout is nothing short of perfection, as her complex character makes you laugh, cry and everything in between.
Her acting is so exquisite that there are moments in which you will forget you are even watching a film.
Twenty-five-year-old Michael Ward is magnificent, portraying the character of Stephen with poise and grace, and not putting a foot wrong, despite the range of themes being explored.
The film is blessed with plenty of other great British acting talent, most notably Colin Firth and Toby Jones.
Some might feel that a running time of 1h 55m is a little long, but I never found myself checking my watch or losing interest. The characters pull you into the story so deeply that you want to go on the journey with them.
And what a journey it is, blending a tender love story with complex issues of mental health and race relations.
On the face of it, it might seem implausible to fit all of this into one film, but Mendes manages to do it flawlessly.
When the film finished, I found myself feeling a little disappointed – I just didn’t want it to end! I wanted to continue watching, to see where these characters went, and how their lives ended up.
That, for me, is how you know you’ve watched something very special indeed.
Empire of Light is currently playing at the Odeon in Tunbridge Wells, with multiple daily showings.