Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth, Toby Jones
Production Company: Neal Street Productions, Searchlight Pictures
Kent Locations Used: Margate, Dreamland, Arlington House, Broadstairs, Cobtree Manor Park, Manston Airport, The East Kent Railway
Empire of Light (2023) is a dramatic love story centred around a beautiful old cinema on the South Coast of England in the early 1980s.
Written and directed by Academy Award-winning Sam Mendes (1917, Skyfall) and photographed by the legendary Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049, No Country for Old Men), Empire of Light stars Olivia Colman (The Favourite (2019), The Crown (2016-2022)) as Hilary and Micheal Ward (Top Boy (2019-2022), Blue Story) as Stephen, with Colin Firth (Operation Mincemeat (2022), The Mercy (2018)) and Toby Jones (The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2022), Christopher Robin (2018)) in supporting roles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have a look at what the cast and crew thought of their stay in Margate…
There is also an Empire of Light Film Map you can download at bottom of the webpage.
Margate is a seaside town complete with sandy beach, harbour, amusement park, period housing and ultra-modern art gallery Turner Contemporary. It is one of the most popular filming locations in Kent, having recently featured in True Things (2022), Above the Clouds (2020) and King of Thieves (2018).
Considered to be the oldest surviving amusement park in Great Britain, Dreamland dates back to the early 1870s and was revamped in 2017. The Park has a Retro Roller Room, vintage arcades, a fully restored Grade II listed Art Deco Ballroom and beautiful rides dating from 1920 to the present day. Dreamland is an increasingly popular filming destination, having recently featured in the final series of Killing Eve (2018-2022), Series 2 of Whitstable Pearl (2021-2022) and Two Weeks to Live (2020).
Arlington House is an 18-storey residential apartment block opposite Margate seafront. It was designed by architects Russell Diplock Associates in 1963 and is a great example of British Brutalist architecture. True Love (2012), Exodus (2007) and Last Resort (2000) feature Arlington House.
Laid out in 1892, the Victoria Gardens include charming features such as a rustic arbour and pergola. The Bandstand is a prominent feature within the gardens, as are the Clock Tower and an Anglo-Indian style shelter. Situated in the traditional seaside town of Broadstairs, the Gardens have also played host to Hurricane (2018).
Now closed to the public, Manston Airport is currently empty and awaiting redevelopment. It boasts a long runway, hangar, large modern warehouse as well as a disused tower and office space. The James Bond film Die Another Day (2002) features scenes shot at Manston Airport.
Cobtree Manor Park stands on the site of the old Maidstone Zoo (still with some buildings intact including Elephant House) and is part of the Cobtree Manor Estate. The park includes over 50 acres of parkland, a play area, café, bridleways for horse riding and a sculpture trail.
The East Kent Railway has a 2.5-mile railway line offering extensive views of the countryside, a 500-yard tunnel, level crossings, sidings and two country stations at Shepherdswell and Eythorne. They offer a variety of train interiors, from 1930s wood panelling, a 1960-1990 railway coach, to the present modern day intercity style coach, as well as a selection of small diesel locomotives. The East Kent Railway was used for a scene in Southcliffe (2013).
Empire of Light will be releasing in UK cinemas on Monday 9th January 2023.
If you would like to visit Empire of Light’s filming locations and take a trip around vintage Margate attractions, please visit Thanet District Council’s Empire of Light trail page.
For more information about Kent’s Filming History please visit our Movie Map.