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Empire of Light (2022)

When this began, I was looking forward to an honest-to-goodness stroll down memory lane, a love letter to cinema.

Immediately I was taken back to being the first one in the Odeon on a Saturday morning, smoke rising from where the adults insisted on staying while their spawn greedily sugar-rushed toffee popcorn and Tom & Jerry, haring up and down the aisles like lunatics in a celluloid asylum, all velvet drapes and golden tassels, dripping brocades. The Empire here had all of that in just the first few frames, even down to the surprising value for money when it came to a box of Maltesers. If you could afford a box, well, everything was fine.


But this was not, as it transpired, all that it appeared to be. Directed by Sam Mendes and starring Olivia Colman, the story of the Empire that we all really came for was only incidental to the story we got, more's the pity.


True, Mendes, with Toby Jones' help, went some way to fulfilling our needs, but the repeated unravelling of a woman that appeared to have gone down the same route as Michael Douglas in Falling Down, but just reacted differently through society and opportunity, meant that most of the time was spent dealing with her, a mere incidental bit player in the life of the building. Douglas got a big gun and got his own back, she just stopped accepting her lot and screamed like the mad woman everyone thought she was, not knowing any better.


As if we needed reminding that bigots and racists also inhabited the past as as well the present and no doubt future is maybe a message that needed to be told, again. Maybe not.

Colman is excellent. She is brilliant in everything, National Treasure that she is. Can't help but imagine that in twenty years she'll be taking all the jobs Judi Dench is getting cast for now. See, life repeats itself, so why shouldn't cinema? Good but not great from Mendes. I expected more.



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