EMPIRE OF LIGHT, the new film from Academy Award®-winning director and writer Sam Mendes, was filmed in and around Margate. Featuring a stellar cast, led by Academy Award winner Olivia Colman, BAFTA winner Micheal Ward, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Crystal Clarke, with Toby Jones, and Academy Award® winner Colin Firth, EMPIRE OF LIGHT is a film about the power of human connection during turbulent times.
EMPIRE OF LIGHT is on general release from Monday 9 January 2023, starring Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, with Toby Jones and Colin Firth.
From Academy Award®-winning director and writer Sam Mendes, EMPIRE OF LIGHT is a moving drama about the power of human connection during turbulent times. Set in and around a faded old cinema in an English coastal town in the early 1980s, it follows Hilary (Olivia Colman), a cinema manager struggling with her mental health, and Stephen (Micheal Ward), a new employee who longs to escape the provincial town in which he faces daily adversity. Both Hilary and Stephen find a sense of belonging through their unlikely and tender relationship, and come to experience the healing power of music, cinema, and community.
Lights, Camera, Action
Between November 2021 and May 2022, the EMPIRE OF LIGHT crew came to Margate, and transformed it into a film set.
Exteriors of buildings were changed and premises taken over and transformed into whole new businesses. The crew even built a complete replica cinema foyer within an unused space on Margate seafront.
At times, the footpaths along Margate seafront were transformed into a winter snow scene, and a rain machine was brought in on sunny days. Local residents were employed as film extras.
Sam Mendes’ explains why he chose to set EMPIRE OF LIGHT in Margate: “I was drawn to this particular place because it offered so much opportunity in the scale of the visual landscape,” says Mendes. “It’s where JMW Turner painted most of his famous paintings – he went there because he said that the skies were the finest in Europe. It’s where TS Eliot wrote the Waste Land, sitting in a shelter just outside of the cinema looking out over the beach and the grey sea that sits beyond. There’s a breadth about the place, which gives it poetry and a cinematic scope.”
But perhaps the biggest reason Mendes chose Margate, was that it was here that production designer Mark Tildesley (No Time To Die, Phantom Thread, In the Heart of the Sea, 28 Days Later) found Dreamland: a former cinema and ballroom with an impressive art-deco exterior sitting alongside a seaside funfair.
(Below cast images credit: Empire of Light © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved)
Our very own Margate, provides the backdrop for much of the film. Considered the ‘Original Seaside’, Margate has bags of traditional coastal holiday charm, mixed with a vibrant art scene: the beach, the harbour or the Old Town (full of hipster hangouts, buzzy cafés, and contemporary and retro shops) all just a short walk from the train station. Head that little bit further to Cliftonville, recently named 8th in Time Out’s 'Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World 2022'. Discover galleries, independent shops, bars and cafés, all rich in character. You can even venture underground to explore the wondrous Shell Grotto and the curious Margate Caves.
Within the film a number of key locations around Margate, Cliftonville and Broadstairs are used.
A unique seaside entertainment venue and amusement park with new and historic rides, including the Scenic Railway and Gallopers. There’s also a year-round music programme (indoor and outdoor), roller room, street food court and festival fun for everyone.
Margate Seafront (including Nayland Shelter and Margate Main Sands)
Enjoy classic seaside traditions - fish and chips, amusement arcades, mixed with hip twists - award winning pubs, Michelin-recognised restaurants and an internationally acclaimed art gallery, all overlooking the golden Margate Main Sands.
A short walk from Café Darcy, used in the film. A newly regenerated and brightly-coloured shopping arcade in the centre of Margate, home to small independent traders and high street brands alongside bars, a pizzeria, bakery and music venue.
Ranked 8th in Time Out’s ‘Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World 2022’, Cliftonville offers galleries, vintage and Independent shops, conscious groceries and world food stores, with community-centred entertainment venues such as Margate Arts Club and CAMP both situated on Northdown Road. Cliftonville’s richness extends beneath the surface with the intriguing Shell Grotto, Margate Caves and the iconic Lido Beacon.
With its coast, countryside and rich history, Kent has had a starring role in many a romance, comedy, drama and action on the big and small screen. It’s no surprise then that when the Visit Kent team heard about Margate taking centre stage as the setting for Empire of Light in perhaps Kent’s biggest role yet, they couldn’t wait to step behind the scenes and discover the locations that inspired Sam Mendes and the team. Take a stroll in the footsteps of stars Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward on Visit Kent’s set-jetting tour of our very own Margate.
Head to Thanet Visitor Information Centre (The Droit House, Margate) to pick up a copy of the film location leaflet. Alternatively, download a copy here