Empire of Light: Sussex Filming Locations

Academy Award®-winning director and writer Sam Mendes’ feature-film “Empire of Light” hits cinemas on Monday, 9th January 2023. 

Mendes’ much anticipated drama is set in and about a tired, old cinema in the early 1980s. It follows Hilary (Olivia Colman), a Cinema Manager battling with her mental health and Stephen (Michael Ward), a new employee who longs to escape the area in which he confronts daily adversity. The characters find a sense of belonging from each other, through an unlikely relationship that leads them to feel the healing power of music, cinema, and community. 

“For most people, their most formative period is their teenage years. For me, that was the late ’70s and early ’80s: the music, the movies, the pop culture of that period generally formed who I was. It was a period of great political upheaval in the U.K., with a great deal of very incendiary racial politics – but at the same time, an amazing period for music and for culture generally – very creative, very politicized, very energized. Empire of Light itself, however, is a movie almost entirely born out of the pandemic. Lockdown was a period of intense self-examination and reflection for all of us. And for me it meant starting to confront these memories that I’d been wrestling with since childhood. That was the spur to write – to explore those memories and to see if I could unlock anything interesting.”

 – Sam Mendes on Empire of Light

Olivia Colman in EMPIRE OF LIGHT. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh, Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Empire of Light: filming in Sussex 

While Sussex was considered for primary filming (BrightonEastbourne to name two) principal photography took place in Kent’s coastal town Margate. That said, several scenes were shot outside of the region with filming taking place in Worthing and near Eastbourne. With a working title of “Lumière”, we helped facilitate filming at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre and on Beachy Head Road.

The Pavilion Theatre, Worthing

Worthing’s seaside town, rich in film history, is one of the first towns in the UK with audiences who paid to see films – very apt for Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre to be used as a filming location. The building dates to the 1920s and is a working theatre situated at Worthing pier. 

The one-day shoot took place in early March 2022 with a crew of 130 and cast of three. We provided logistics support at time of filming and in advance to ensure the shoot was a success.

Production prepped 1st-2nd March, with filming on the 3rd, striking the day after. Technical and Security were on site from the 2nd to ensure there were no delays to the filming schedule and to keep the local community informed of what was happening. 

Both internal and external shots from the Pavilion were needed so much of the area was closed to the public – from the external entrance to the theatre, along Marine Parade to the public toilets and down to the seafront to the west, as well as the length of Worthing Pier. We provided three Location Marshals from our local network to work the shoot and support Security.

We assisted with parking, working with Adur & Worthing Council to meet Production’s needs. The outside of the theatre was used to house an electricity generator and multiple tech trucks. A 60m strip of the promenade, beach side, was cordoned off to allow for trucks to be double parked. This was to ensure they weren’t in shot when filming outward from The Pavilion.

At Production’s request, we arranged for six Pay and Display bays, one loading bay and one disabled bay on Marine Parade be suspended for two days. We reserved 200 parking bays at Grafton car park for crew and provided 95m of parking (66 bays) at Worthing Beach House East car park for two days. While Production were aiming to avoid bringing trailers to Worthing, they needed to ensure they had a nearby area for their unit base. Catering was positioned in the bays in front of the theatre including a seven and a half tonne T-kitchen, two transit vans, a fridge trailer and a small pop-up gazebo. 

We were on site to liaise with the location crew (who we’ve worked with before) to ensure everything was running smoothly, when they filmed the scene with Olivia Colman dancing in the Pavilion’s Atrium – we’re looking forward to seeing it the scene on the big screen.

Beachy Head Road, near Eastbourne

Less than 50 miles from the M25, located between Brighton and Eastbourne, Beachy Head is the UK’s highest chalk sea cliff with open landscape and a winding, country road running through. 

The area is a popular filming location and features in Empire of Light when Hilary and Stephen take a trip to the beach aboard a double decker bus shown as heading for Hastings.

Filming was less logistically challenging than that of Worthing. The one-day shoot started at Coach Bay near the Beachy Head pub. Intermittent traffic control points were set up at the start, past the bend near Beachy Head West car park and at Birling Gap (one of two end and turning points). We organised traffic management at the three points and assisted with the temporary suspension of six parking bays. 

It was fantastic to support the production on Empire of Light – managing the film permit process, organising logistics and recommending local crew and suppliers throughout. Worthing and Beachy Head are two of our most popular filming locations that are used for feature films, music videos, TV and photography. If you’d like more information on the locations we’ve detailed above or need help sourcing the right location for your next production, drop us a line: hello@sussexfilmoffice.co.uk.