The Empire is the kind of theater you don’t see very often anymore, framed by bright lights and a canopy and with red velvet seats. Hilary (Olivia Colman) is in charge of opening the theater every morning while her manager (Colin Firth) calls her into her office from time to time to ask her for illicit favors. It’s a grim routine that Hilary reluctantly repeats, but all of her coworkers acknowledge that she’s much calmer since she returned to work after a long absence. When Stephen (Micheal Ward) arrives as a new employee, the two quickly connect. She hides a troubled past, struggling to control her mental health, while Stephen confronts the prevailing racism in Britain in the 1980s. In this way, they find a way of escape in each other, but their relationship – like their own Empire cinema-cannot last forever, and soon both must face the reality of their different futures.