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Empire of Light (2022)


Seven of us in the discussion group for the seventh year of RCC. It was perfect that we showed Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light (2022). It focused on a seaside cinema (the film was set in Margate) and the importance of film in people’s lives.


Did we like the film? Our feelings were mixed. We could not fault the performances. Olivia Colman’s portrayal of Hilary, a vulnerable woman with mental health difficulties and Micheal Ward’s 1980’s sensitive Rude Boy Stephen, with whom she has a secretive romance, were admired.


The depiction of a mental health breakdown was honest and moving. The actors who played the cinema employees, all unique well-drawn eccentric individuals, also particularly impressed. Colin Firth ticked all the boxes as an exploitative ‘anti-Darcy’ as one review described.


One of the members of the discussion group loved seeing the sequences of Hilary’s old-fashioned GP at work. Hilary saw him twice and the consultation seemed leisurely. That really drove home that the film was set in the 1980s.


There were many positive features, including the fine cinematography by Sir Roger Deakins and the nostalgic Two-Tone music. We spent a short time talking about the 1980s cinema confectionary.


However, there were some aspects that didn’t work for us. There were too many themes, including National Front racism, all jostling for attention. There were several false endings, meaning it didn’t flow well. The screenplay needed shaping more effectively. Some scenes felt a little contrived – the mending of a pigeon’s wing and its later flight to freedom seemed like a heavy-handed reflection of Hilary’s relationship with Stephen.


The inclusion of moments from ‘Being There’ made us keen to see the film in its entirety.


We praised Jacob Lee’s ‘A Drifting Up’, which was one of our short films. It was nominated for a BAFTA. There were many happy golden moments as Jacob filmed himself dancing outside, to help himself to come off anti-depressants. One of us thought it was like a ‘meditation’ and we were touched by members of the public who joined him to dance.


Here’s to the next seven years!


Anne Goldstein

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