Why Empire of Light Should Be on Your Radar

Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light Might As Well Be the Magic We Are All Craving

~ by Dora Endre ~

The upcoming Sam Mendes project is currently shooting in the UK and is not only expected to be an awards contender but also one of the cinephile heart.

Sam Mendes is in charge of directing and writing the project that is currently in production in the South-East of England. Empire of Light marks the filmmaker’s first solo writing credit, he has previously co-written the World War I based film 1917. The nuanced filmmaker known for his tendency to jump from genre to genre has now decided to take a trip in the jungle of the heart.

Much of the plot is kept under wraps but the film is described as a love story set in and around a charming old cinema on the South Coast of England in the 1980s. The first teaser poster released for the project is René Magritte’s surrealist painting The Empire of Light (1954). The painting depicts a nocturnal landscape beneath a sunlight sky. So the movie’s title must be a direct reference to the well-known painting but what can we expect from the film itself? Is it going to be a seaside story of romance and dreamlike imagination? A big hurray for out-of-the-box shoreline escapism.

Long-Lasting Collaborators and Illustrious “Newcomers” On Board

Empire of Light will be the fifth collaboration between Mendes and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049, The Shawshank Redemption, 1917). The project will be also supported by much of the filmmaker’s crew who worked together on 1917, including sound mixer Stuart Wilson (Star Wars VII – The Force Awakens), casting director Nina Gold (The Power of the Dog), make-up designer Naomi Donne (The Batman), editor Lee Smith (Dunkirk), executive producers Michael Lerman (Spectre) and Julie Pastor (Informer) as well as co-producer Lola Oliyide (Britannia). Production designer Mark Tildesley (No Time to Die), costume designer Alexandra Byrne (Guardians of the Galaxy) and co-producer Celia Duval (Belfast) will also be part of the “dream team”.

The film stars the crop of British acting aristocracy. The ensemble cast is led by Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter, The Favourite), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, A Single Man) and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Sherlock). Portraying supporting characters to the story Michael Ward (The Beautiful Game), Tom Brooke (The Bodyguard, The Crown), Hannah Onslow (Call the Midwife, Ridley Road), Crystal Clarke (Ordeal By Innocence) and Tanya Moodie (A Discovery of Witches) are set to appear. The lead actors on board, Olivia Colman and Colin Firth have recently stared together in the post-World War I drama, Mothering Sunday.

A Filmmaker Who Cannot Be Put In a Box

“I’m really thrilled to be working with so many wonderful collaborators across both cast and crew on such a personal project,”

– Mendes told Deadline.

“It’s a particular thrill to be working for the first time with Olivia Colman, and to be working once again with my long-term collaborator Roger Deakins.” “I have long been an admirer of Searchlight and the dynamic way they have produced and released some of my favourite theatrical releases of recent years,”

– Mendes said in a statement.

“This project is very close to my heart, and I couldn’t be more delighted that it has found its ideal home.”

Mendes has gained international success both as a stage and as a film director. He has won an Academy Award, two Golden Globes and a BAFTA just to mention a few of his most prestigious accolades. Mendes enjoyed massive successes both at the West End and on Broadway with popular stage revivals of such musicals as Cabaret and Oliver! and the staging of such plays as The Ferryman and Richard III.

Mendes is most known as a filmmaker for his work on Revolutionary Road, the new Bond films (Skyfall, Spectre), the war epic 1917 and his directorial debut American Beauty. His debut feature starring Kevin Spacey instantly established him as an A-list filmmaker.

The 1999 film touches on a variety of subjects from redemption to sexual repression through the eyes of a man going through a midlife crisis, redefining his life and the world around. The underlying essence of simplicity and beauty play a significant part in the film.

“It took me a long time to film the plastic bag”

– Mendes opened about the iconic scene with the flying plastic bag –

“and then I had to get the cut of the scene right. But if you find it as beautiful as the character does, then suddenly it becomes a different movie, and so did he as a character.”

This is only one example for why Mendes is no stranger to symbolism and detail-oriented filmmaking.

The Producers

Empire of Light is produced by Pippa Harris and Mendes under the banner of Neal Street Productions, and it will be released theatrically by Searchlight Pictures. Neal Street Productions is run by Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Caro Newling, and Nicolas Brown and has been producing award-winning film, TV and theatre for the past 15 years. Neal Street’s CV includes The Hollow Crown for BBC, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful, Jarhead for Universal and 1917, just to mention a few.

Producer Pippa Harris adds,

“We are delighted to be working with Searchlight on Empire Of Light, and couldn’t hope for better partners. They have been incredibly collaborative and supportive as we embark on this new venture together.”

And as Searchlight Presidents Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum say: 

“This is a dream partnership for us, between the singular Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, and the outstanding cast led by Olivia, Micheal, and Colin. We’re very excited for the road ahead.”

Behind the Scenes Insights

Principle photography is currently taking place in the dreamy seaside town of Margate and along the coastline in Kent. Margate is 16 miles from Canterbury, known for its sandy beaches and hyper nostalgic amusement park. Margate also sounds peculiarly similar to Magritte, no? The crew started on site shoots late February. Gary Evans who lives in Canterbury Road which is near the set has been regularly walking past to “spy on” the developments. The 63-year-old resident said:

“It is quite exciting. Margate has been a bit run down for years and it is nice to have something happen like this. There is a bit of a buzz around the town. They have put all these lights up and it is quite festive. The whole town was lit up, it was wonderful.”

Frequent road closures are expected in Margate through mid-May and the city’s landmark, the Dreamland building has been turned into The Empire, the retro cinema, which will play a prominent part in the movie. Many other notable buildings of the town have gone through a massive art deco transformation as well. Based on the first behind the scenes photos, Empire of Light will be a classical drama with a big heart, a gigantic dose of nostalgia and a thick layer of magical artistry. The film is expected to be released either late 2022 or early next year.