Empire of Light (2023) – Movie Trail

Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman stand on the roof of a building, looking out to sea. The night sky in front of them is lit up by fireworks and an illuminated town is visible in the distance.

Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman in Empire of Light (2023) © 20th Century Studios



Visit the Margate locations from Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light movie.

From Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes, Empire of Light is a moving drama about the power of human connection when faced with adversity. Centred around a beautiful, faded cinema on the South Coast of England, the film stars Academy Award-winning Olivia Colman and BAFTA winner Micheal Ward, with Toby Jones and Colin Firth in supporting roles.

The film was released in UK cinemas on Monday 9th January 2023.

From February to May 2022, the production transformed our very own Margate into a movie set.

For writer and director Sam Mendes, the decision to set Empire of Light in Margate was an easy one: “I was drawn to this particular place because it offered so much opportunity in the scale of the visual landscape. […] There’s a breadth about the place, which gives it poetry and a cinematic scope.”

And it was here in Margate that production designer Mark Tildesley discovered the film’s centrepiece – Dreamland, a former cinema with an impressive art-deco frontage and a vintage seaside funfair.

Take a look at what the cast and crew thought about their stay in Margate:

This trail will take you on a journey through Empire of Light’s Margate & Broadstairs filming locations.

Dreamland, Margate

Michael Ward, Sam Mendes and Olivia Colman stood inside an art-deco style cinema lobby, leaning against the concessions stand. Ward wears a maroon shirt, Mendes wears a blue winter scarf and black gilet, and Colman wears a maroon shirt and purple cardigan. The three are laughing.

Behind the scenes inside the Empire set build in Margate. Michael Ward, Sam Mendes and Olivia Colman © Searchlight Pictures

Considered to be the oldest surviving amusement park in Great Britain, the site of Dreamland dates back to the early 1860s. To this day, it remains a unique seaside entertainment venue with new and historic rides, a retro Roller Disco and vintage hall full of arcade games, all against a seaside backdrop.

Dreamland’s art-deco exterior was a huge draw for the filmmakers, and the story is set almost entirely on Dreamland’s property.

The original building’s exterior, transformed into the Empire Cinema, features throughout the film, with the building’s old ballroom, restaurant and cinema foyer acting as the unused Screens 3 and 4. The old Dreamland cinema, transformed by the production team from its previous use as a bingo hall back into a vintage cinema, stars as Screen 1.

Micheal Ward as Stephen and Olivia Colman as Hilary sit in an old, dusty dining booth with blue velvet seats. Behind them is a dirty window which offers a view of a sandy beach and a harbour in the distance.

Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman in Dreamland’s old restaurant © Searchlight Pictures

Dreamland’s retro Roller Disco also features in a scene where the cinema’s staff, including Hilary (Olivia Colman), Stephen (Micheal Ward) and Janine (Hannah Onslow) have some fun on their day off.

The cinema’s foyer, office and ticket booth were a set, built on a slice of land called ‘Godden’s Gap’, just metres away from the old Dreamland cinema. Unfortunately, this soundstage has since been removed, and other locations such as the fire escape, roof, old ballroom and old cinema are not open to the public.

Dreamland is open during the summer months. Visit Dreamland’s website to buy your entrance ticket for an amazing vintage funfair day out.

Margate Seafront

Micheal Ward as Stephen and Olivia Colman as Hilary stand on a stretch of concrete, looking out over a blue tidal pool and a cloudy sky. Ward wears dark purple trousers, a dark purple vest and a maroon shirt. Colman wears a dark purple skirt, a dark purple cardigan and black knee-high heeled boots.

Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman looking out over Margate Tidal Pool © Searchlight Pictures

With its art-deco architecture and role as one of the UK’s most treasured seaside destinations, Margate shines as the backdrop to the film, which reflects the pop-culture, passions, and turbulence of the 80s.

Margate’s iconic seafront provides the sweeping backdrop to the Empire Cinema, and to the blossoming relationship between two Empire employees.

Visit Margate’s stunning golden beach as seen in the film, and while you are there stop off at a traditional Fish ‘n chip shop, a classic amusement arcade, an award-winning micro-pub, or the Turner Contemporary art gallery.

Margate Town

Olivia Colman as Hilary stands inside a vintage chemist in front of a shelf of perfumes. She stares out of the window.

Olivia Colman in the transformed Café Darcy © Searchlight Pictures

In the town centre, the Old Town Hall became the interior of a doctor’s office for the film. Situated nearby is Wildes, a bistro and cocktail bar which features as the location for a romantic dinner between Donald Ellis (Colin Firth) and his wife Brenda (Sara Stewart). Book a table on their website.

A short walk away is Café Darcy, a family run café which was transformed into a 1980s chemist for filming. Pop in for a hot drink and a hearty .

Margate’s town centre is vibrant and colourful, and hosts a developing creative community of independent businesses, venues and galleries. Rummage through some bygone treasures in the many vintage shops or pick up some modern art before relax in one of the many independent watering holes.

Cliftonville, Margate

Olivia Colman and Sam Mendes stood on a street. Behind them are a group of tall, white Victorian style buildings. Colman wears a brown and black tartan coat, black leather gloves and clutches a brown leather handbag. Mendes wears black trousers, a navy blue coat, navy blue scarf and a black beret.

Behind the scenes of Empire of Light. Olivia Colman and Sam Mendes on Fort Paragon in Cliftonville © Searchlight Pictures

Ranked 8th in Time Out’s ‘Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World 2022’, Cliftonville offers galleries, vintage and independent shops, world food stores, and community-centre entertainment venues.

Cliftonville provides the location for Hilary’s (Olivia Colman) flat, situated along Fort Paragon (although the interior was a set built on the former Manston Airport site). The iconic Lido features briefly as Hilary walks home from a busy day at the Empire.

Areas of the old Lido Complex have been reopened to the public, and visitors can pop in for a drink and a game of pool. Visit their website for more info.


Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Margate is Broadstairs, a charming old fashioned seaside town that was a favourite for Charles Dickens.

The filmmakers travelled along the coast to shoot a day out with Stephen (Micheal Ward) and Ruby (Crystal Clarke) at Lillyputt Minigolf. Just opposite, in Victoria Gardens, take a stroll past the Viking Bay Lift to spot the memorial bench where Stephen chats to Hilary (Olivia Colman).

Or browse through the independent shops and pop in for a scoop or two to Morelli’s who have sold Italian Ice Cream in the town since 1932.


View Visit Thanet’s trail on their website here.

Download Visit Thanet’s trail as a PDF.

More film trails can be downloaded from the Kent Moviemap.

Hungry for more sight-seeing? See the Visit Kent website.