FALL IN LOVE IN LOVE WITH MARGATE!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Mini . 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.
More film trails can be downloaded from the Kent Moviemap
Hungry for more sight-seeing? See the Visit Kent website.