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PRODUCTION / FUNDING UK / USA

Sam Mendes and Olivia Colman unite for Empire of Light

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- The Academy Award-winning director’s next film is a cinephilic and personal story, also marking his first solo screenwriting credit

Sam Mendes and Olivia Colman unite for Empire of Light
Director Sam Mendes and actress Olivia Colman

What do you do when you’re one of the most decorated British film and theatre directors of your time, boasting more gongs than a percussion studio? You look back – but not in anger – to the past, it seems, which is what Sam Mendes (Skyfall [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
film profile
]
, Spectre [+see also:
trailer
making of
film profile
]
, 1917 [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) has chosen to do for his ninth theatrical feature, Empire of Light. Described as “a love story set in and around a beautiful old cinema on the south coast of England in the 1980s”, Olivia Colman (The Favourite [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, The Lost Daughter [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
) and newcomer Michael Ward (Small Axe, Top Boy) will take the lead roles, although whether they’re the romancing couple has not been confirmed. After winning an Oscar for his extended-take cinematography in 2019’s 1917, Roger Deakins will reunite with Mendes as director of photography. It is being produced through Mendes and Pippa Harris’s own Neal Street banner, with Disney’s Searchlight Pictures in charge of global distribution. Matthew Greenfield, David Greenbaum and Katie Goodson-Thomas are overseeing the project as executives for Searchlight.

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In a recent interview with Deadline, Mendes confirmed that the film would go into production in February next year, in time for an autumn or end-of-year premiere. “I have long been an admirer of Searchlight, and the dynamic way they have produced and released some of my favourite theatrical releases of recent years,” Mendes said when the project was first announced in April. “This project is very close to my heart, and I couldn’t be more delighted that it has found its ideal home.”

Mendes is clearly in a personal mood on his new directorial projects, impressively shuffled between the theatre work he still undertakes in London’s West End and on Broadway; 1917 was inspired by tales of World War I from his paternal grandfather, Alfred, and carried a dedication to him at the beginning of the end credits. The director didn’t actually grow up on England’s south coast, where this film is set, but it is still very personal, as he further explained to Deadline: “It does have strong personal elements, but it’s not directly autobiographical. I started writing it in the spirit of speculation, more than certainty, during lockdown – when there was not much else to do but go inwards, rather than outwards. I’ve been delighted at the response of the people who are in it, who want to make it and who want to shoot it.”

With all the advocacy taking place from film luminaries about preserving the in-person cinema experience, especially with the lessening of social-distancing restrictions this year, Mendes’ non-evil Empire is set to be another heartfelt love letter to the big screen.

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