Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light is a love letter to movies and his mother

Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes celebrates cinema and the families that we choose and that choose us with his new film Empire of Light, a star-studded drama he wrote, directed and produced.

A love story set in an English seaside town in the early 1980s, Empire of Light sees Olivia Colman, Colin Firth and Toby Jones as workers at a local cinema, the Empire.

With the country in recession, Colman’s character Hilary recovering from an episode of mental illness, and racial tensions building outside the Empire’s doors, the new decade has gotten off to an uncertain start for the staff.

The arrival of Stephen, an upbeat young black card collector, played by Micheal Ward, breathes new life into the cinema. Stephen immediately bonds with Hilary, a lonely middle-aged woman, and their budding relationship helps find comfort and inspiration.

Mendes, who won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Director for American Beauty and co-wrote the Oscar-nominated 2019 film 1917, is making his solo screenwriting debut with Empire of Light, which he made during the COVID-19 crisis -Pandemic wrote. Much of it reflected growing up and his mother, he said.

“It was very personal, it was really inspired by memories from my childhood growing up with someone who was mentally falling apart and at the same time kind of heroically raising me. So it’s a love letter to her and to the courage of people struggling with mental illness,” the 57-year-old director told Reuters at the film’s premiere at the London Film Festival on Wednesday.

“And at the same time, it’s set in and around cinema, which has seen better days, written at a time when we were worried that all those things were going to stop and we’d never see them again,” he said.

Mendes wrote the role of Hilary for Colman and asked Ward for input on his character.

“It’s rare to see an older woman with a younger man, especially an older white woman but a younger black man. So telling that story was just super important to me, and working with Olivia made that a lot easier,” Ward said.

Empire of Light hits US theaters December 9 and worldwide in early 2023.

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