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Empire of Light: release date, trailer, cast and everything we know about the Olivia Colman movie

Empire of Light movie fireworks
(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

The latest offering from director Sam Mendes, Empire of Light, is here to remind you of the magic of the movies. To help with that are the likes of Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Michael Ward and more.

Empire of Light is being pegged as an early contender for end-of-year awards among the slate of the new 2022 movies and is getting its first look at some of the biggest international film festivals this fall, including the Toronto International Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.

Here is everything that we know about Empire of Light.

When is the Empire of Light release date?

Empire of Light is currently slated to premiere for US moviegoers on December 9. UK general audiences can see it a few weeks later, starting January 13, 2023.

We can expect some first reactions to the movie though when it screens at TIFF in September and BFI London in October.

What is the Empire of Light plot?

We don’t have an overly detailed synopsis for Empire of Light yet, as most descriptions of the plot focus on how the movie deals with "human connection and the magic of cinema." But we do know a few more things, like that the movie is set in an English seaside town in the early 1980s, and it is supposed to be a personal story from Mendes. 

Who is in the Empire of Light cast?

Michael Ward and Olivia Colman in Empire of Light

Michael Ward and Olivia Colman in Empire of Light (Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

The incomparable Olivia Colman headlines Empire of Light along with Michael Ward.

Colman, who is an Oscar-winner for The Favourite, was nominated again for 2021’s The Lost Daughter and has recently been seen in Heartstopper, is set to play a character named Hilary Small.

Ward is playing a character named Stephen. The winner of BAFTA’s 2020 Rising Star Award, Ward has previously been seen in Blue Story, The Old Guard, Small Axe, The A-List and Top Boy.

The movie features another Oscar winner in Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) as Mr. Ellis, while the rest of the cast is made up of Tom Brooke (Preacher, Bodyguard), Sara Stewart (La Fortuna, The Night Manager), Crystal Clarke (Sanditon, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain), Tanya Moodie (The Man Who Fell to Earth, A Discovery of Witches) and Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), among others.

While not part of the cast, there are number of behind the scenes individuals who are worth mentioning: Roger Deakins is handling the cinematography for the movie after having previously worked with Sam Mendes on Skyfall and 1917; and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed the music.

Is there an Empire of Light trailer?

The official teaser trailer for Empire of Light is here. It's just over a minute, but in it we hear a powerful narration about film from Toby Jones' character and get a sense of Olivia Colman and Michael Ward's roles. Check it out below.

Sam Mendes movies

Sam Mendes is an Oscar-winning director who is once again stepping behind the camera with Empire of Light. In addition to serving as the movie’s director, Mendes is also the lone credited writer; the story is said to be a personal one for him. This is only Mendes second writing credit in his career and his first as a standalone writer (the other was 1917). 

Mendes has been much more prolific as a director since he broke out in 1999 with his Oscar win for American Beauty. Here is his full directing resume:

  • American Beauty (1999)
  • Road to Perdition (2002)
  • Jarhead (2005)
  • Revolutionary Road (2008)
  • Away We Go (2009)
  • Skyfall (2012)
  • King Lear (2014)
  • Spectre (2015)
  • The Lehman Trilogy (2019)
  • 1917 (2019)

Empire of Light poster

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun.