Red carpets out for Empire of Light special screening at Carlton Cinema and reception at Dreamland

Dreamland ready for Empire of Light guests Photo John Horton

The red carpets are out at Carlton Cinema in Westgate and Dreamland Margate ready for a special screening of movie Empire of Light followed by a reception and tour.

Special guests, including some residents who were part of the production as extras or crew, will attend the 11.30am showing of the film in Westgate which was shot in and around Margate last year. Celebrities in attendance include Toby Jones, Olivia Colman and Sam Mendes.

It will be followed at 2pm by a reception and tour of part of the filming location at Dreamland.

The story, written and directed by Sam Mendes, is a tale of people brought together by the magic of cinema. It stars Olivia Colman as Hilary, manager of the Empire, a once opulent seaside cinema in a once flourishing holiday town. But, in 1981, all three have fallen on troubled times.

Micheal Ward and Oliva Colman in Empire of Light Photo Roberto Fabiani

Hilary loves the old place despite its crumbling state and, when it’s booked for a regional film premiere, she and the cinema staff – including dedicated projectionist Norman (Toby Jones), grumpy manager Mr Ellis (Colin Firth) and handsome new box office staff Stephen (Micheal Ward) – need to find the hope, energy and imagination to bring the Empire back to life. There’s a lot stacked against them pulling it off, not least the world outside the cinema’s doors in which recession, racism and unemployment are on the rise.

Olivia Colman on set Photo Steven Collis

Alongside the cast, the creative team includes cinematographer Roger Deakins, designer Mark Tildesley, editor Lee Smith and casting director Nina Gold. They bring together a vivid picture of 1980s Britain in the film which explores the wonder of cinemas and the joy of watching movies on the big screen together.

Sam Mendes and Roger Deakin Photo Louis McLaren

The production brought an estimated £4million into the Thanet economy through everything from accommodation and food costs to items and services bought locally.

Photo Frank Leppard

Many residents responded to the call for movie extras and 1300 people of all ages were cast as background artists throughout the shoot.

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

Photo Carlton Cinema

Sam Mendes explained why he chose Margate as the location for Empire of Light. He said: “I was drawn to this particular place because it offered so much opportunity in the scale of the visual landscape.

Red carpet scenes in the movie Photo Roberto Fabiani

“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.”

Photo Roberto Fabiani

Roger Deakins’ has been nominated for his work on the film for a Critics Choice Awards for ‘Best Cinematography’ and Olivia Colman’s performance has landed her a Golden Globes nomination for Best Actress.

Empire of Light, which also had an early screening at the Palace Cinema in Broadstairs on January 2, goes on UK public release tomorrow (January 9).


  1. The film actually gives friends who have emigrated to other parts of the world a chance to see Thanet in a different light as to as it is in reality today. However, as previously mentioned the BBC film critic votes this his No 5 best film for the year.

  2. A cobberling of other films. “Clichéd to death Darling” and made in a very self-indulgent way.

  3. How many of you who are slagging this film off ,have seen it ,I will wait to see it before saying anything ,looks like e usual people having a go ,without checking on something first ,easy thing to do these days with social media doing just because you can

    • I’ve seen enough to know it’s not my kind of film (and I don’t like Colman much), just like I see enough excerpts of (say) Eastenders to know not to watch it. I’m not going to see a film just because it was filmed locally.

      • Coleman, like Jones is in everything over the last decade or so, to the point you wish they would take a couple of years away.

        As for the film, sounds like a woke version of the sublime Cinema Paradiso, which hopefully might get the 35th anniversary treatment this year.

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