Sam Mendes Returns With Empire Of Light, Which Begins Filming Today

Sam Mendes has officially begun production on "Empire of Light," which will serve as the director's followup to his WWI epic "1917." Olivia Colman, who can be seen above in her Oscar-nominated role in "The Lost Daughter," is starring in the film as Hilary opposite Micheal Ward ("Small Axe: Lovers Rock") as Stephen, Colin Firth ("1917") as Mr. Ellis, Toby Jones ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") as Norman, Tom Brooke ("The Death of Stalin") as Neil, Hannah Onslow ("Call the Midwife") as Janine, Tanya Moodie ("A Discovery of Witches") as Delia, and Crystal Clarke ("The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain") as Ruby.

Searchlight Pictures simply describes "Empire of Light" as a film "set in and around a beautiful old cinema on the south coast of England in the 1980s," so for now you'll just have to wait and see who any of these characters even are. The movie will shoot in Margate, England, and along the Kent coastline through to May 2022. Mendes will be directing from his first solo-written script and working with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins for the fifth time after their earlier collaborations on "Jarhead," "Revolutionary Road," "Skyfall," and "1917."

What is Empire of Light?

Reading between the lines, "Empire of Light" appears to be a quasi-autobiographical drama about Mendes and how he developed his love for cinema and theater as a teenager-turned young adult living in England in the '80s. The filmmaker may have confirmed as much with the statement he released as part of Searchlight's announcement, stating, "I'm really thrilled to be working with so many wonderful collaborators across both cast and crew on such a personal project."

Directors making movies inspired by their real-life experiences is nothing new, with Federico Fellini's "8½" being one of the all-time famous cases. More recent examples include Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma" and Kenneth Branagh's "Belfast," both of which were shot in black-and-white and re-examined the filmmakers' respective childhoods within the historical context of the political events transpiring in their native countries at the time. Of the pair, though, only "Belfast" is really about its director's life as a child, whereas "Roma" is centered more on the housekeeper who helped raise Cuarón when he was younger.

Assuming I'm not entirely off-base with my line of thinking (it wouldn't be the first time!), it will be interesting to see if "Empire of Light" is more of a typical memoir like "Belfast" or if Mendes' on-screen surrogate has more of a tertiary role in the film akin to Cuarón's in "Roma." Alternatively, it may not resemble either of those movies and have more in common with Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso," a film that's as much a celebration of the communal power of cinema as it is a coming-of-age drama loosely inspired by Tornatore's own upbringing.

"Empire of Light" has yet to receive an official release date, but I wouldn't be surprised if Searchlight sees it as an awards season contender for either 2022 or 2023 (depending on how quickly Mendes is able to finish post-production).