September 13, 2019
What do we love most about autumn in London? It's the perfect time of year to duck inside a darkened room and hunker down with some popcorn. Here’s a guide to five of our favourite independent cinemas in the capital…
Notting Hill’s Electric Cinema 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. Alongside a programme 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. Adjacent to the cinema is the Electric Diner 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. Kids’ 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 thousands of miles away.
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 creche 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
This venue has laid on some classic nights out over the years: Swear-along South Park, Sing-a-long-a-Frozen 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 calendar of quirky events is legendary. Enjoy an irresistible line-up of horror movie marathons, Disney pyjama parties, kids’ weekend matinees, 35mm presentations, double features and more, plus enough special shows and seasons to keep the average cinephile occupied for years.
While the Prince Charles has long been the venue for a budget central London cinema experience, a major refit saw a second screen installed in the upper levels, allowing it to show new, premium titles alongside its classic, value-led movies. Members, however, can still see regular, one-off screenings for £1 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, and one of the nicest cinema bars in the city, it’s no surprise the swish Curzon Soho is the preferred choice of movie directors and film company execs for premieres, previews, one-off screenings and festivals, and was voted London’s number one cinema by the readers of Time Out.
Although best known for its quality programming of art house films and a succession of Q & As with highly respected directors – Werner Herzog, Mike Leigh, Gus Van Sant, Ken Loach have all spoken here – the Curzon also hosts special events such as live screenings of National Theatre, Met Opera, Bolshoi Ballet and Royal Shakespeare Company performances, as well as Curzon ‘DocDays’, a strand dedicated to documentaries.
The Curzon is also one of the 63rd BFI London Film Festival‘s participating venues: public booking is now open for a host of new features, documentaries, short films and special events on show from 2–13 October 2019.
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 a sunny balcony. Since the 1980s it’s 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 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.
The Phoenix Cinema, 52 High Road, East Finchley, London