Photos: Carlton Cinema pride at hosting Empire of Light stars and how it looked on the big screen at Dreamland Cinema

Empire of Light inside Dreamland Cinema Photo Louis McLaren

The team at Westgate’s Carlton Cinema has spoken of the pride at being the host for today’s (January 8) screening of movie  Empire of Light and hosting director Sam Mendes and stars Olivia Colman and Toby Jones.

The red carpet event was a huge coup for the independent cinema which was showing the film a day ahead of its UK public release.

Some 200 invited guests attended the screening which was followed by a lunch reception and set tours at Dreamland in the afternoon.


A spokesperson for the Carlton Cinema said: “We are just very happy with how the premiere went and we were really proud that the Carlton Cinema was chosen to host such a beautiful movie.

“The team was really pleased to be able to take part in the event. It was an honour to be able to meet the cast and crew and, of course, Sam Mendes.”

Among residents to watch the special event was Wilfred Jenkins, 26, who managed to have a chat and take selfies with the stars.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Following the screening, a lunch reception and film set tour was held at Dreamland, Guest looked around the former Sunshine Cafe and film highlights were shown on a projector in the Dreamland Cinema which featured restored seating.

Photo Louis McLaren

Thanet photographer Louis McLaren was among those lucky enough to attend today. He said: “In the Dreamland Cinema, they had the projector on showing highlights of the film.

Empire of Light on screen in Dreamland Cinema Photo Frank Leppard

“It was a brilliant morning and afternoon, Sam Mendes gave a speech at the Carlton Cinema to say thank you. In the cinema at Dreamland for the film, the seats were restored from upstairs. The actual seat Olivia Colman sat in for her scene was H19!*


The film has focused the attention of national and international media on Thanet with articles and features appearing on news sites from Canada and the USA to national and local coverage at home.

Shooting for the film took place in and around Margate – including at the Manston airport site- between March and end of May last year and is credited with boosting the local economy by some £4million.

Production prep, which included building a cinema set at ‘Godden’s Gap’ meant crew had been on the isle since the previous November.

Photo Louis McLaren

The UK public release tomorrow (January 9) is likely to add to Thanet’s tourism sector and Visit Thanet has already produced a film locations map guide for interested visitors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Production was facilitated by Kent Film Office. On the KFO website it says: “After seeing the art-deco Dreamland cinema, director Sam Mendes chose Margate as the film’s lead location, the Empire Cinema. A sound stage was erected next door to provide additional cinema interiors facing the beach. The amusement park and roller disco also make an appearance.

Photo Louis McLaren

“Filming took place across Margate from March to May of 2022. Margate Seafront, including the main sands, tidal pool, Nayland Rock Shelter, Marine Terrace and the promenade feature heavily throughout the film as the backdrop for the Empire Cinema.

“The area around Fort Paragon, the old Lido, Ethelbert Terrace and Cliff Terrace appear as the streets around Hilary’s flat.

Photo Louis McLaren

“In the town centre, the old Mayor’s Parlour doubles as the interior of a doctor’s office, Arlington House as Stephen’s home and various shops and cafes feature, including Café Darcy as an old chemist, Sands Café, Marina Café and Wildes as themselves.

“Margate Railway Station booking hall also features as itself and the vintage train carriage featured in the film’s closing was filmed on The East Kent Railway.

Photo Frank Leppard

“In Broadstairs, Lillyputt Mini Golf, the promenade and bandstand feature on a day out, and Cobtree Manor Park in  Maidstone appears at the very end of the film.

“In addition to these locations, additional sets, including Hilary’s and Stephen’s flat interiors and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital were built up in the old aircraft hangers at the former Manston airport site.”

Photo John Horton

Although Empire of Light is an 80s-set love story it also explore racism and poor mental health – a subject that Sam Mendes drew on from his own childhood experiences with his mother.

Empire of Light is being screened from tomorrow at Carlton Cinema Westgate, Palace Cinema Broadstairs and the Vue at Westwood.


  1. It’s great to see it premiered at the Carlton and locally shortly as well as world wide photos were sent to the projected picture trust and put on their world wide site and members magazine more publicly for the town it is a pity the Dreamland cinema itself wasn’t in operation at the time I made a comment about this in good faith and got criticism from a councillor who said it’s his choice to go to the Carlton the cinema should not have been left closed all this time no need for that kind of comment local projected picture trust member.

  2. lets be honest they were only there to flog the film , and too add to the millions they already have ,

    • If that was the case they’d be in Leicester Square They did today to thank people who helped as they promised they would during the filming. They didn’t have to do anything- could have easily walked away day after filming ended.

  3. There are some typical Thanet whingers here again, eh Checksfield, R World?
    This could have been staged in Leicester Square or similar but no, the film makers decided to honour the area it was filmed in and we should thank them for the best publicity Thanet has had for some time. Let’s have more of it.
    We need positivity, not putting down all the time by the usual suspects.

  4. “Not a working cinema” someone proclaims, yet an excuse is made for a film some influential luminaries deem worthy. Hmmm…

    • The BIG problem – and us locals said this when a small fortune was spent on it just a few years ago – is that no-one is likely to want to run it. It closed down because (as well as the excellent Carlton), a modern cinema opened in Westwood Cross, complete with free parking and lots of nearby restaurants. So it isn’t really viable.

      If only that £1.8 million had been spent on the Winter Gardens instead!

Comments are closed.