Where was Empire of Light filmed? Filming locations for Sam Mendes movie, can I visit, when was it set

Mendes said he ‘was drawn’ to Margate because of ‘the scale of the visual landscape’

Empire of Light has narrowly missed out on a Golden Globe, with lead Olivia Colman (The Favourite) losing out in the Best Actress category.

The romantic comedy written by Academy-award winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) follows the story of a cinema in the 1980s and features a star-studded cast, with famous faces including Colman, Michael Ward (Top Boy) and Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) leading the lineup.

Set in the Kent seaside town of Margate, Mendes said he “was drawn to this particular place because it offered so much opportunity in the scale of the visual landscape”.

So, where was Empire of Light filmed and can you visit the locations? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Empire of Light about?

Empire of Light follows the story of a cinema in Margate and the characters that work behind its doors. It showcases topics including racism and mental health, set against the backdrop of 1980’s Britain.

Empire of Light was filmed in Margate, Kent (Photo: Disney)

The official synopsis for the film reads: “Empire of Light is an intimate and moving story about love, friendship, and connection, set in a coastal town in Southern England against the social turmoil of the early 1980s.”

Where was Empire of Light filmed?

Empire of Light was filmed in the Thanet seaside town of Margate. Reported by Visit Thanet, Mendes was “was drawn to this particular place because it offered so much opportunity in the scale of the visual landscape”.

Mendes said Margate: “was where JMW Turner painted most of his famous paintings – he went there because he said that the skies were the finest in Europe. It’s where TS Eliot wrote the Waste Land, sitting in a shelter just outside of the cinema looking out over the beach and the grey sea that sits beyond. There’s a breadth about the place, which gives it poetry and a cinematic scope.”

Locations for the film in Margate focus around Dreamland, an art deco former cinema and ballroom which opened in 1920, but that’s not the only familiar spot in the movie.

The neon light “Dreamland” sign lit up in Margate (Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Thanet District Council)

Here are some of the key filming locations in Margate for Empire of Light:


Dreamland is used as the exterior shot for the fictional “Empire” cinema. The impressive art deco building which looms over Marine Terrace in Margate is known for its vintage fairground rides and seaside entertainment.

Margate seafront

The film also showcases Margate’s seafront with scenes at the Nayland Shelter and Margate Main Sands.


The Margate Lido, Ethelbert Terrace and Cliff Terrance where Colman’s character Hilary lived also feature.

Old Town

The Mayor’s Parlour in Margate’s Old Town was transformed into the interior of a doctor’s office, whilst Arlginton House is home to Ward’s character, Stephen. Whilst shops and cafes, notably Café Darcy feature in a scene as an old chemist.

Margate Railway Station

Scenes of the interior of Margate Railway station include a period train, shot at the East Kent Railway, near Dover.

Margate Promenade

The promenade along with Broadstairs’ Lillyputt Mini Golf and the bandstand is included in a scene showcasing a day out.

Can I visit the locations used in Empire of Light?

Fans of the movie can visit many of the locations featured in Margate, including Dreamland, the Margate Seafront and locations used throughout the town.

However the impressive interior shots of the fictional cinema are not real and were made on set. Reported by Kent Online, Gabrielle Lindemann of the Kent Film Office explained: “When you come into the old cinema building in Dreamland the lobby was not suitable.” She added: “The actual cinema and upstairs area was built in Dreamland itself.”

When was Empire of Light released?

Empire of Light was released in UK cineams on Monday 9 January.