Meewella | Critic

According to P

Tag: Michael Ward

QuickView: Empire of Light (2022)

“It creates an illusion of motion. An illusion of life. Out there, they just see a beam of light. And nothing happens without light.”


Empire of Light has been marketed as Sam Mendes’ ode to cinema, and that can been seen in its setting — an ageing independent cinema on the English south coast — and the poetic lines about the medium intoned by Toby Jones as the fastidious projectionist. This is all set dressing, however, to a story that really focuses on the relationship between Michael Ward and Olivia Colman’s characters, unfolding amidst the racial unrest of the early 1980s. Unfortunately the characters are all written as one-note sketches — the entire cast works admirably with the material but even a titan like Colman can only do so much with the cliché of an emotionally unstable older woman enamoured with a younger man. This is Mendes’ first solo writing credit and it seems, at least for now, his writing cannot match his directorial skill. He is most effective in portraying racism in varied guises, both direct and insinuated. Empire of Light is all beautifully presented in the hands of veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins (who has now collaborated on around half of Mendes’ films) accompanied by a gently moving score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. With so much talent involved, it seems harsh to judge the film based significantly on the script alone, but this kind of quiet, emotional picture is ultimately dependent on quality writing. My impression from the trailer was that Mendes was looking to emulate Cinema Paradiso and I feared he might engage in too much navel-gazing about the importance of cinema. In truth, I could have done with more.


QuickView: Lovers Rock (2020)

Small Axe: Lovers Rock

“Move your feet! You don’t know who you’ll meet.”


The second of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock captures a single night at a West London house party in the 1980s. Although it features the barest bones of a budding romance between two strangers, McQueen’s focus is in distilling the essence of this social experience in what is arguably an hour-long music video. The title refers to a romantic subgenre of reggae that emerged in Britain but is not well-recognised in its birthplace. Its power is evident: sometimes couples are pressed together, barely moving; at others the entire room sways in a rhythmic trance, the joyfully beating heart of an organism. The camera glides deliberately through the house, slipping behind figures and furniture, providing an intimate perspective rather than that of an outside observer. Whenever we return to the living room, we find ourselves in the middle of the dancefloor. The cold blue lighting outside contrasts with the warmth of the phosphorescent yellow inside, an inviting haven away from the threats of violence that briefly emerge. Lovers Rock is an ambitious idea that is well realised, but I wish it had more content. Instead, following Martha as she sneaks back into bed only to be roused immediately by her mother, it is like waking from a dream — enjoyable yet ephemeral.


Small Axe anthology: Mangrove | Lovers Rock | Red, White and Blue | Alex Wheatle | Education

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

Up ↑