Filming starts in Thanet for Sam Mendes movie Empire of Light

Photo Roberto Fabiani

Filming has started today (February 28) for Sam Mendes movie Empire of Light with crews spotted at Margate Town Hall and Manston airport.

Photo Frank Leppard

The site known as ‘Godden’s Gap’ on Margate seafront has been transformed with the temporary build of an Art Deco style cinema to be used for the love story set in the 1980s and Dreamland Cinema has been renamed with temporary Empire letting on the fin and building front.

Photo Frank Leppard

Festoon lighting and red postboxes have also been installed along the seafront.

Fake snow has also been brought in which, it is understood, will be used for filming on Friday.

Photo Frank Leppard

Crew vehicles are currently using Barnes car park in Westbrook.

Searchlight Pictures today announced  the start of principal photography for the film directed by Sam Mendes who has previously worked on movies 1917, Skyfall and American Beauty.

Photo Frank Leppard

Empire of Light will star Academy Award winner Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Academy Award winner Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Crystal Clarke and Tanya Moodie. Tom Brooke and Hannah Onslow join the previously announced cast.

Photo Roy Foord

Produced by Academy Award nominee Pippa Harris (1917, Call The Midwife, Penny Dreadful) and Mendes under their Neal Street Productions, the film will be released theatrically by Searchlight Pictures.

Director Sam Mendes Photo Keith Morris / Hay Ffotos / Alamy Stock Photo

Sam Mendes said: “I’m really thrilled to be working with so many wonderful collaborators across both cast and crew on such a personal project.

Photo Frank Leppard

“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.”

Photo John Horton

Producer Pippa Harris added: “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.”

Photo Frank Leppard

Searchlight Presidents Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum added: “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.”

Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley said:  “We’re thrilled that Sam Mendes, Neal Street Productions and Searchlight Pictures are about to start filming Empire Of Light in Margate. “It’s not only great for us at Dreamland but it’s great for the town too, there’s a real buzz of excitement in the air!

Photo Roy Foord

“It’s wonderful to know that after over a decade of being unused, the Grade II listed Dreamland Cinema building will enjoy a new lease of life as it takes centre stage in Sam Mendes’ latest project.

Photo Frank Leppard

“It’s a testament to Margate that we can attract such high calibre productions, which contribute significantly to the local economy, whilst highlighting our beautiful town to a worldwide audience.

“Already, we’ve seen a positive impact within our community as hundreds of local people and businesses are getting involved to support the production. And at what is normally a quiet time of year for our hospitality industry, restaurants and accommodations are bustling with crew and cast.’.

Photo Simon Willows

New cast announcement Tom Brooke recently starred in “The Crown” for Netflix, BBC/Netflix’s “The Bodyguard”, “Preacher” for AMC Networks, A24’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties and The Death of Stalin for IFC Films.

Photo Frank Leppard

Hannah Onslow is currently starring in BBC/AMC Networks’ “This Is Going to Hurt” and was previously in BBC/PBS’s “Ridley Road”.

Photo Simon Willows

The filmmaking team includes longstanding Mendes’ collaborators including Academy Award nominated producer Pippa Harris, Academy Award winning Director of Photography Roger Deakins, who reunites for his fifth collaboration, hair and make up designer Naomi Donne, editor Lee Smith, sound mixer Stuart Wilson, casting director Nina Gold, executive producers Michael Lerman and Julie Pastor and co-producer Lola Oliyide.

Photo Frank Leppard

Filming in Margate will run through to May 21.

About the cast:

Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter, The Favourite, The Crown.

Micheal Ward – Small Axe: Lovers Rock, Top Boy, The Beautiful Game.

Colin Firth – The Staircase, Supernova, 1917, The King’s Speech, A Single Man.

Toby Jones – First Cow, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,

Tom Brooke – The Crown, The Bodyguard, Preacher, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, The Death of Stalin,

Hannah Onslow – Ridley Road, Call The Midwife, This is Going to Hurt

Tanya Moodie – Motherland, A Discovery of Witches, Star Wars Ep IX – Rise of the Skywalker.

Crystal Clarke – Sanditon, The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain, Ordeal By Innocence.

Cast photo credits from left: Colman: Chris Baker; Ward: Michael Shelford; Firth: Mariano Vivanco; Jones: Andrew Ogilvy; Brooke: Clive Barda; Onslow: Pip; Moodie: Michael Shelford; Clarke: A.P. Wilding


Friday 4th MarchFort Paragon Marine Terrace Marine Drive 

From 1600 – 2100

From 2130 – 0400

From 2130 – 0100 (not concurrently with Marine Terrace)

Tuesday 15th MarchHall by the Sea RoadFrom 0700 – 1800
Monday 21st MarchAlbert Terrace Marine DriveFrom 0700 – 1900

From 1000 – 1900

Tuesday 22nd MarchMarket StreetFrom 1800 – 0300
Thursday 24th MarchHall by the Sea RoadFrom 1400 – 0600
Friday 25th MarchHall by the Sea RoadFrom 1400 – 0600
Wednesday 30th MarchMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430
Thursday 31st MarchMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430
Friday 1st AprilMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430
Monday 4th AprilMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430
Tuesday 5th AprilMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430
Monday 25th AprilFort Paragon Athelstan RoadFrom 0800 – 1700

From 1500 – 1900

Wednesday 27th AprilMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430
Thursday 28th AprilMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430
Friday 29th AprilMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430
Friday 6th MayKing Street

Cliff Terrace

From 0800 – 0230

From 2300 – 0530

Monday 16th MayMarine DriveFrom 1100 – 2100
Wednesday 18th MayMarine TerraceFrom 0930 – 1430

As a contingency, the location team has applied for 2 additional weather back up dates for Marine Terrace on May 19-20..

Photos: Sam Mendes in Margate as filming (and snowfall) for Empire of Light gets underway


  1. The rusting corregated metal sheeting, blends in well with the modern seafront look.

    I suspect TDC will hope they are left behind, as it’s an improvement on what they are capable of doing.

  2. I dread all the traffic chaos that will result in the closure of Margate sea front. Everything from Cliftonville and that side of Margate will all have to go via Victoria traffic lights area and all roads become blocked as happened when the sea front was closed a few weeks back with the gas leak. I’ll have to allow an hour to get to Westgate rather than the usual 10 minutes. But thank you Kathy for advising the schedule so we can plan ahead – all dates are now in my diary so I know not to make appointments on the dates the seafront is closed. Pity those who have to work every day and will get caught up every time.

  3. Ideal time to introduce a new one way route through Margate from coffin corner to northdown road, via tivoli and back to victoria lights, eg. Then give the streets that are not used a good clean up.

  4. Good idea ABC. Seafront needs to be pedestrianised, would encourage more cafes etc along sea front. The reason traffic piled up a couple of weeks ago was because people were unaware of the closure and were having to double back on themselves. I would have to change my route in and out of Thanet, but it’s no big deal if it improves the look of the seafront.

  5. ABC – that simply would not work – Victoria traffic lights area can’t cope with that volume of traffic. Last time seafront was closed traffic was backed up on College Road to almost Dane Valley. And would mean so much traffic then going through residential areas after Coffin House corner. And what then happens when there is an accident / gas leak / road repairs or whatever on that one and only road out? And this does not take into account all the new development which will be taking place on Shottendane!!

  6. Do we get a reduction in our council tax for all the upheaval it is going to cause, I dont think the council have thought about the NHS staff and GPs, school teachers and pupils who need to get to work on time plus ambulance crew and all other transport that is essential

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