Empire of Light filming wraps up today – with an estimated £4million pumped into Thanet economy

But the festoon lights will not be staying due to a 'manufacturing fault'

Empire of Light filming with Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward Photo Roberto Fabiani

Filming for the Empire of Light movie in Margate wraps up today (May 26) after several months of shoots in the town – and has brought an estimated £4million into the Thanet economy.

The Empire of Light teams started to arrive in Margate in November last year and say that since then the production will have contributed the £4million through everything from accommodation and food costs to items and services bought locally.

Photo Steven Collis

This includes accommodation from November to June in venues including Sands Hotel, crew subsistence allowances spent in the area, location fees, permits, parking, venue hire, local crew, security, council services, street lighting and office space rental for many of the production departments.

Photo Frank Leppard

The production teams have also bought locally, including props from vintage and second-hand shops plus food used for scenes in the film.  The lighting department bought consumables, cabling and bulbs from local businesses and the construction teams also purchased items locally.

Photo Steven Collis

Many residents responded to the call for movie extras and 1300 people of all ages were cast as background artists throughout the shoot.  The locations team liaised with the local film offices and many residents keen to further their careers in the film industry became part of the crew as location trainees and marshals. Costume, hair and make-up, assistant directors and the set decorating department engaged locals to work as part of their teams.

Olivia Colman on set Photo Steven Collis

Thanet businesses and council services have been used by the production, including sign writers, graffiti removal specialists, locksmiths, an electrical and plumbing company, Thanet council street lighting technicians, TDC Parking Services, laundry service, cleaning companies, fire service and local health and safety crew, water safety support and drinking water suppliers. Kent based companies and organisations used also included marquee hire, and heating companies, KCC Highways and KCC Street Lighting technicians.

Photo Roberto Fabiani

Production members also worked with organisations and charities including People Dem Collective, A Better Arlington, Cliftonville Community Centre, Rise Up Clean Up and residents’ associations in various areas of Margate.

The team have also given career talks at schools and colleges including The University of Creative Arts in Canterbury, Hartsdown Academy and Holy Trinity and St Johns Primary School.

Sam Mendes and Roger Deakin Photo Louis McLaren

Empire of Light director and writer Sam Mendes said: “We wrap filming on Empire of Light today after an amazing 56 days shooting in Margate and along the Kent and Sussex coastline.

“I know we have brought some disruption, but we could not have asked for a better location than Margate and Dreamland to shoot this film. I want to say a huge thank-you to everyone in Margate for their patience, hosting us during prep and production and welcoming all our cast and crew into your community.”

Photo Frank Leppard

Members of the production team will still be in Margate in June and July as they finish up production.

Empire of Light stars Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward and Colin Firth. The 1980s-set love story also stars Toby Jones, Tom Brooke, Hannah Onslow, Tanya Moodie and Crystal Clarke.

Locations used included Margate’s main seafront road, the beach, the Old Town, Cliftonville, and Darcy’s Café.

Photo Roy Foord

Dreamland’s neon sign on the fin of the Grade II* listed cinema was replaced with Empire Cinema signs and the 20,000ft set at ‘Godden’s Gap’ contains a replica of Dreamland’s old cinema, including the staircase and chandeliers, with a ticket booth outside.

Photo Louis McLaren

The production has included firework displays, a Chariots of Fire film ‘premiere,’ vintage cars and fake snow and rain as well as a mass scene with mods and skinheads.

Photo Frank Leppard

The production team also installed festoon lights along the seafront and into the Old Town. In response to public requests Neal Street Productions made a formal offer to gift the lights to the town of Margate, once they reached the end of filming.

However, Thanet council says issues with the lights mean they will not be staying in place.

Council officers, in consultation with the Kent County Council Highways team, conducted an investigation into the likely running costs, ongoing energy and maintenance costs and fees for testing and licensing that would be incurred, should the lights be taken on by Thanet District Council.

Photo Frank Leppard

A Thanet council statement says: “During the course of the investigation, we were informed by Neal Street Productions that they were experiencing ongoing technical issues with the lights, which had been installed as all-weather equipment, but which were in fact suffering from water ingress during wet weather due to a manufacturing fault.

“On this basis, these lights are not considered to be suitably resilient for long term use in the seafront location, and would not withstand the ongoing impact of the weather that they would inevitably be subjected to.

“In addition to concerns over the resilience of the lights to wind and rain, the existing lights do not have controls installed to allow them to be timer activated, and cannot easily be dimmed. Currently, the lights are too bright to pass a road safety assessment and add to light pollution in the area, with potential impacts on the environment and biodiversity.

Photo John Horton

“Now that filming is drawing to a close, Neal Street will be starting to remove the lights on Friday 27 May. While the lights were a positive addition to the Margate streetscene, we confirm that having fully considered the factors already listed, we have taken the difficult decision to decline the offer.

Photo Louis McLaren

“We understand that the Margate Charter Trustees have contacted the Empire of Light production team to ascertain if any part of the infrastructure could remain, to facilitate the installation of more suitable and robust replacement lights.”

The film will be released by Searchlight Pictures.


  1. Setting aside the technical problems with the sea front lights and the light pollution. When have TDC and KCC ever inspected and complained about the light pollution from Thanet Earth. This issue goes on 365 days of the year and has progressively increased as the number of greenhouses have increased with the prospect of an expansion of the site.

    • R

      Was going to say the same thanet light pollution.

      Monkton village glows orange and it’s like day light

      TDC bangs on about being carbon neutral yet allows thanet earth to be one of the biggest light polluters in the country. Bizarre

      Why are thanet earth made to fit roofblinds ?

    • I’ve often that myself about the light pollution emitted by Thanet Earth and how they get away with it
      Has Sir Rog ever made any comments about it ?

  2. Does anyone know if they are filming again today at Victoria gardens and promenade in Broadstairs ? I’m guessing it’s Margate filming that finished yesterday!

  3. Does every shop, restaurant, hotel, pub, etc have to ask everyone who comes in if they are working in the film ? And than report the takings to TDC or is 4 million just a guess ;/

  4. its a pity they didnt sign up for a percentage of the take , given they got a film set for nothing ?

  5. 4 million quid. Great, I look forward to my rebate on my council tax to cover the extra fuel I’ve had to buy due to the detours in place in Margate sea front. What are the odds?

  6. Perhaps TDC can invest some of that £4m into The Theatre Royal and Winter Gardens to keep the entertainment in Thanet going!

    • That’s an excellent idea . Wouldn’t that be nice and appropriate but I won’t hold my breath expecting it to happen .
      I do think though that when the council have the public meeting about the future of the 2 local theatres that our local councillors bring up where is this money generated from the film is going to be used instead of it just disappearing into the abys .and hoping that Joe Public has forgotten about this extra revenue to TDC

      • I knew that . I have a very reliable contact / friend in the film industry who has quoted to me that film director Sam Mendes ( going on other films like 007 Spectre he’s made ) , paid our local council near to £1 million pounds to film here .
        That’s Peanuts as far as the film budget will be .

          • I doubt that her source was a reliable as mine from within the film industry .
            Btw. The other figure I had previously seen quoted ( guessed ?) was £770.000 on here where as I’ve been quoted a cool million was spent on Spectre by Mendes to a local authority

      • Ah I see! Well the restaurants aren’t exactly heaving are they? And how on earth have they estimated this (colossal) figure? I’ve asked lots of local businesses and many have said filming has adversely affected their trade! Who the heck plucks these figures out of the air anyway? But I’m sure TDC were paid something…..but don’t want to divulge any of it to the residents who have been massively inconvenienced with traffic diversions/congestion, its pollution and extra travelling time on the roads!!!

        • It was out of season! As I have talked to some of the many people working on it and staying here I know they have been eating drinking and buying their day to day stuff in the area for 3+ months as well as staying in accommodation. That plus local businesses who got work from it and whose premesis were hired out for filming or as refreshment based….it all adds up during the usually quiet spring months

  7. Give over Peter at least my complaining is constructive not just moaning for the sake of it you like others on here moan about anything that brings money into the area. How did the filming stop you going out for a meal?? I guess it never really but you just like to moan. My book has just been accepted by the publisher “ The Moaner” A true story of a man who phoned the police and others in authority to complain and no no one listened then one day a rookie policeman did listen and it lead to a major crime being cracked”

  8. Well I thought it was a good thing for the town. I would like to see the film premiere at dreamland cinema and bring more money into the local economy.

  9. The grid lock to the roads cost a lot of businesses a good deal.
    On balance in time maybe the film will draw people but I’m glad it is over.

  10. So get some lights that DO meet the requirements then! And good luck with the film, hope it’s very successful.

  11. GOOD RIDDANCE!! pleased it’s gone .. bye never come back ! .. its been terrible them being here….

  12. Well l loved every minute of it, yes there were traffic problems but live with it ,like to see some of the £4m spent on Margate as a lot of filming 🎥 is done there for meany films and TV drama’s. as for the lights it’s typical TDC.

  13. I think Peter gets out of the wrong side of bed lately it could be a sign of old age. Having said that my most old people are happy.
    Naturist have nothing to hide he should know that.

    • Email me via my website. I’ll gladly give you marketing and promotional tips for your book (there you go, how’s that for positivity?).

      Oh, and I’m not a naturist. Much to many peoples’ disappointment/pleasure.

  14. The filming has clearly brightened up the lives of many and apparently shined a light on Margate as well as providing valuable income to a depressed local economy.
    I am however curious as to how much money was paid to the offshore hedge fund owning Dreamland and how much of this money if any trickled down to local residents and has been invested locally in sustainable development very little I suspect. Did TDC actually receive any payment for the film production ? If so how will this be used .

  15. I’ve earlier today quoted “the going rate” that film companies pay a local authority to film in their district .
    The figure I gave was what was given going on the Sam Mendes produced 007 Spectre film being filmed out of studio .
    I like many people will be interested to see if TDC declare to the public how much they actually received from Sam Mendes and how this money will be spent .
    I’ve got a feeling we will never know .
    Fin / The End

  16. Well I am a naturist Peter I love being naked when its appropriate as I said before naturist have nothing to hide.

  17. I heard from a mate who heard from a bloke down the pub who read in on Facebook that TDC brown enveloped £7 million.

    Enough money to save The Granville Theatre, The Winter Gardens, fix the lifts and open the toilets. Enough change left over to pay off who is suing/being paid off at the council.

  18. Well Peter, most days Margate was quiet in Jan, Feb, March and April when the film people were here. And effectively they stopped army last week on the seafront. And Margate does not tend to open up fully until Whitsun unless we have an early heatwave, sadly missing this year.

    • Well Johnny, I and almost everyone else I know in Birchington/Westgate have been avoiding Margate while the filming was going on (in fact I know of several who are walking in today for the first time in a couple of months).

      End. Of.

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