We look at another supposed love letter to cinema, Empire of Light, which stars the beautiful Dreamland Cinema in Margate as the titular Empire, the best-developed character in an otherwise lacklustre film. Its themes of racism, patriarchy, mental illness and cinema as escapism form more of a patchwork quilt than a tapestry, and the film is thin throughout. Still, it did the job of activating our memories of cinemagoing and working in cinemas, which we discuss, and despite his knowing it shouldn’t have, the story worked emotionally on Mike. It’s really not good though.
An event movie sold as much on its behind-the-scenes technical challenges as its story and genre, 1917 uses invisibly stitched long takes to convey the experiential fluidity of an overnight mission in World War I France, wherein two soldiers must hand deliver a message to the British front line to call off an offensive that will play into a German ambush. Mike is suspicious of films that market their filmmaking; José dislikes the work of director Sam Mendes.
So it’s with some relief that 1917 really rather impresses us. It’s a beautiful film, evocative of both the human cost of war and pastoral serenity of the landscape in which it takes place. Its symbolism, something José derides as overly simple and obvious in Mendes’ work, here functions quite well (if similarly unsubtly); its supporting cast of British and Irish stars is used well, Mark Strong and Richard Madden in particular shining during their brief scenes. And we consider the film’s similarities to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a similarly expensive war epic about avoiding disaster, rather than boasting of success.