August 25, 2011
Here in London, we’re not exactly having the sunniest summer ever, so there’s no reason whatsoever to feel guilty about ducking inside a darkened room and hunkering down with some popcorn. Here’s a guide to five of our favourite independent cinemas in the city…
Notting Hill’s Electric Cinema, which celebrates its centenary this year, is beloved by London filmgoers. A resolute and historic part of Portobello Road life since 1911, it has survived two world wars, including a bombing. It remained open throughout the Blitz, flashing announcements on screen when the air raid sirens sounded, while audiences filed out calmly to the nearest shelter, collecting a refund on their way.
In later years it successfully avoided becoming a bingo hall, and underwent a complete redevelopment at the turn of the 21st century. In addition to offering a range of quality mainstream and art house films, the cinema is known for its luxury interior, with large leather seats and footstools, tables for food and drink, and cosy two-seater sofas at the rear. Alongside the cinema is the Electric Brasserie and upstairs is private members club Electric House, part of the Soho House Group.
The Electric Cinema, 191 Portobello Road, London
The Lexi in Kensal Rise, the self-proclaimed “first social enterprise independent boutique digital cinema in the UK”, donates all its profits to charity, is mainly staffed by volunteers and proudly hails itself as a resource for the entire neighbourhood. Kid’s clubs, parent and baby shows, matinees for older people, film clubs, discussion groups and Q & As with filmmakers fit seamlessly into its normal programme, and every penny raised goes towards supporting an entirely different community on the other side of the world.
Lynedoch Village in Stellenbosch, South Africa, is the country’s first eco-village and, overseen by the Sustainability Institute, the Lexi’s donations have gone towards the local school, the building of a brand new crche with places for 45 children from the surrounding area, a community cinema, a community vegetable garden for research into sustainable farming methods and much more, offering the young people of Lynedoch a better start in life.
The Lexi, 194b Chamberlayne Road, Kensal Rise, London
Swear-along South Park, Schwing-along Wayne’s World, Sing-along Wicker Man and our personal fave: the quote-along Big Lebowski, complete with pre-show White Russians and bowling competition. Yes, it’s the Prince Charles Cinema just off Leicester Square, and its plethora of quirky events doesn’t stop there. Throughout September, the Vintage Season will be rolling out old classics like From Here to Eternity, Casablanca, and even Battleship Potemkin, while the Good Bad Movie Club dedicates an entire season to the best of bad cinema.
While the Prince Charles has long been the place to visit for an economical central London cinema experience, it recently completed a major refit, installing a second screen in the upper levels, allowing it to show new, premium titles alongside its value-led, classic movies. Members, however, can still get a weekday matinee ticket for £1.50 which is probably the biggest bargain to be found anywhere in the capital.
Prince Charles Cinema, 7 Leicester Place, London
With three screens, free wifi, a Konditor and Cook café and one of the nicest cinema bars in the city, it’s no surprise that the swish Curzon Soho is frequently the chosen venue of art house movie directors and film company execs for premieres, previews, one-off screenings and festivals, and has been voted London’s number one cinema by the readers of Time Out.
Although best known for its quality programming of worldwide art house films and a succession of Q & As with highly respected directors – Werner Herzog, Mike Leigh, Gus Van Sant, Ken Loach – the Curzon also hosts a number of special events such as live screenings of National Theatre and Met Opera performances, a series of ‘Screen Salon’ film lectures, and special Curzon ‘DocDays’, a strand dedicated to documentaries.
Curzon Soho, 99 Shaftesbury Avenue, London
The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley is one of the oldest purpose built cinemas in the UK, with an impressive barrel vaulted ceiling dating back to 1910. More than just a cinema, it’s an integral and much-loved part of the community, with an art-deco style cafe and sunny balcony, and since the 1980s has been run by a charitable trust, giving it total independence and the ability to screen first run feature films. All profits are reinvested into maintaining the historic building.
The Phoenix has been a popular location for film and tv shoots and was cast as a 19th century theatre for a scene in Neil Jordan’s 1994 hit Interview with the Vampire, along with appearances in the recent John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy and comedy series Black Books. Its classic 1930s interior has also provided the ideal backdrop to countless glossy magazine photoshoots.
Don’t forget that the 55th BFI London Film Festival starts in October, and it’s just been announced that this year’s opening film will be the European Premiere of 360, directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardner), with an original screenplay by acclaimed writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon). The full programme for the festival will be announced on Wednesday 7th September.