Monday, February 27, 2023

Empire of Light: Something Remains

 Olivia Colman in Sam Mendes's Empire of Light.

In Sam Mendes’s Empire of Light, Olivia Colman plays Hilary, the assistant manager of an old-fashioned moviehouse called the Empire in Margate, England in 1980 and 1981 who is sleeping with her married boss, Donald Ellis (Colin Firth). When Stephen (Micheal Ward), a young Black man, joins the staff they become first friends, then lovers – and then Hilary, who is prone to schizophrenic episodes, breaks down. Mendes, who also wrote the script, overloads the picture – with Hilary’s psychological struggles and Stephen’s encounters with the National Front and a layer of trite sentiment about the ability of movies to keep up our faith and hope when life seems most dire. Following The Fabelmans, this is the second recent picture by a well-known director to throw a load of symbolic weight on the idea of movies. (It doesn’t help that the movies Mendes chooses to embody the salvific quality of movies are hardly inspiring; perhaps that was his intention, but if so it doesn’t accomplish what he wants it to.)