The film also deals with mental health—Hilary is mentally ill and is loosely based on Mendes’ mother—and also race, as Ward’s character confronts racial prejudice throughout the film.
Speaking on Sunday 8 January at the film’s premiere at Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent, Mendes said: “I had stories I wanted to tell from my childhood; for me, the ’80s is a really vibrant and resonant time to write about.
“I wrote it during lockdown and there was a huge rise in mental health problems as people were confined to their homes and held in a vice-like grip.
“I also think we haven’t found a very good way of articulating mental health issues in this country. It’s often the case if someone gets discharged after they’ve been admitted for an illness, you ask how they are, but if they discharge from a mental hospital, they tend to to not ask.
“It’s a very difficult thing to talk about and it tends to be brushed under the rug, with social embarrassment being the norm.
“Race is an ongoing discussion that we have to find a way forward in, it’s just as important today as it was in the ’80s.”
Coleman said it was a huge responsibility to take on a character based on Mendes’ mother.
Of her role as Hilary, she said: “It was very upsetting knowing that it meant so much to Sam, seeing it so close in such formative years, so the responsibility is so great but then Sam made it a really caring and safe space.”
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“He tells jokes all day, really bad jokes, but it means you can make a mistake and that’s okay, and he guided us and made it all right.”
The Empire of Light Starring Colman, Ward, Colin Firth, and Toby Jones, it hits theaters Monday, January 9.