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Independent Cinemas Setting the Standard in London, Part Two.

  • May 27, 2024
  • 8 min read
Independent Cinemas Setting the Standard in London, Part Two.

As the shift towards more comfortable, locally-owned independent cinemas gains traction across the capital, certain parts of London’s, West End, are witnessing the closure of these classic movie theatres. Many from the 1980s, underwent inadequate conversions by the now-defunct Cannon Cinemas chain. A recent example of this trend is the closure of The Empire in The Haymarket, which was previously subject to a substandard conversion by Cannon.

In light of this trend, we welcome Henry Scott Irvine’s second, of a two part profile, on the excellence of independent cinemas in London.

BFI Southbank

‘The Best Cinema Complex in the World’

0 Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XT.

4 Cinema Complex NFT1, NFT2, NFT3, The BFI Studio with the nearby BFI IMAX Projecting from 4K Digital, 4k DCP, 35mm & 70mm Film

https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

The BFI Cinema complex is situated on the Southside of the River Thames along from The Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hungerford Bridge. The National Film Theatre was originally known as The TeleCinema and situated in a tent as a part of the Festival of Britain on the Southbank in 1951. The NFT moved to its current location in 1957. An additional NFT 2 opened in 1970. 1988 saw the opening of The Museum of The Moving Image, which ran till 2000. In 2005 MOMI’s own former cinema became NFT 3 along with the additional 90 seater BFI Studio Cinema, utilising some of MOMI’s former space. In 2007 The National Film Theaters were renamed more simply as BFI Southbank. The BFI also hosts The LFF (London Film Festival) annually, in non-BFI cinemas across London. Now in its 68th year, it remains one of the largest and most well-attended festivals in the world. The British Film Institute also has an in-house Library and the free-to-use Mediatheque. An audiovisual archival resource of hundreds of films; situated alongside three bars, two restaurants, and a cafe. The BFI curate ‘Themed Monthly Seasons’ as Retrospectives, alongside ‘Special Film Events’, ‘Talks’, ‘BFI Distributed Exclusives’, monthly ‘Big Screen Classics’, ‘Events for Seniors’, ‘Relaxed Screenings’, and much more besides. Each screening sees printed notes provided for every film shown. Nearby is the BFI IMAX situated in the Roundabout next to Waterloo Station. The BFI is run wholly as a registered charity. Cinema audiences are its very lifeblood. Open 7 days a week. 2022, however, saw afternoon screenings limited to just four days a week. This has led to full houses most nights. So advanced booking or prior box office purchases of tickets are now essential. Transport? There is easy access to buses and nearby Waterloo Station.

BFI Cinema

The Prince Charles Cinema

‘The Best Repertory Cinema in the World’

Leicester Place

London WC2 7BY

2 Cinemas. Projecting in 4K, 35mm & 70mm
https://princecharlescinema.com/PrinceCharlesCinema.dll/Home

Originally built as a theatre, it became a cinema in 1965. In 1969, Star Cinemas acquired it, removed the stage, enlarged the stalls seating capacity, and added a balcony. In 1985, the Cannon Cinema chain took over the building until 1986, selling it to the Robbins Group, who, in 1991, turned it into what it is today – a repertory cinema. In 2008, the current owner, Carl Fisher & Associates, converted The Prince Charles into two cinemas. The original balcony projectors-to-downstairs were retained and then boxed off. Behind the original projection box is a huge new screen for Cinema 2, the old balcony, and new Cinema 2, which now has brand new 4k digital projectors. Alongside digital projection, the old projection box has retained both its 35mm projectors and its 70mm film projectors, making The Prince Charles, along with BFI Southbank, one of the few theatres still able to screen films in 70mm. Something they curate with aplomb.

The Prince Charles’s range of films varies from film-projected epics to Indy ‘First Runs’ and ‘Second Runs’, which are intermingled daily with Cult Classics, Genre Classics, Rarities, International Art House Movies, Sing-along Musicals, Director Seasons, and Film Festivals. Discounted ticketing is available for all at bargain prices. Special deals for Students, Pensioners, Tourists, and Cineastes alike. There are no better price deals for films screening in London that we know of. The choices of films reflect a hybrid of The BFI Southbank and the defunct Scala Cinema formally in Kings Cross. In fact, The Prince Charles is most certainly today’s contemporary equivalent of The Scala. Meanwhile, the staff are helpful, enthusiastic, patient, and attentive. You can buy reasonably priced freshly made popcorn, inexpensive beers, and soft drinks. What’s not to like? Most importantly, they resisted changing their name to The King Charles Cinema! They even put up a sign saying so.

Curzon Bloomsbury

‘The Best Multiplex in London’

Brunswick Square,
London, WC1N 1AW.

6 Cinema Complex
The Renoir, The Minema (formerly in Knightsbridge), The Lumiere (formerly in St Martin’s Lane), The Phoenix, The Plaza, and The Bertha Dochouse

https://www.curzon.com/venues/bloomsbury

Opening in the Brunswick Square redevelopment of 1972, the cinema is situated close to Russell Square tube station. This was Curzon’s second cinema, following on from their original Curzon in Mayfair (1934). Known variously over the years as Curzon’s Bloomsbury Cinema (closed and sold-on in 1974), ABC Bloomsbury, The EMI International Film Theatre, The Gate Bloomsbury, The Renoir Cinema, and The Curzon-Renoir. The current 6-screen subterranean complex partially reopened in December 2014 and was fully functioning as a new 6-screen operation by March 2015. The six screens, designed by architect Takero Shimazaki, are concrete marvels of architectural modernity. The cinemas all average between 20 and 30 seats each. They project onto large screens via 4K digital projectors. Big seats provide comfort and warmth. The Renoir retains its original screen from the days when it was a single cinema, but now has just under 150 seats. The 55-seater Bertha DocHouse is hired from Curzon independently. Uniquely, they theatrically screen the finest selection of new and archival documentaries to be anthologised anywhere.

Freshly made pizzas are served from a licensed bar at ground level. More basement bars reside below. The staff are friendly and efficient. The feature films are wide-ranging and international, with many distributed by Curzon’s own distribution company. The cream of these are also available through Curzon Home Cinema, with some exclusives too. There are currently 17 Curzon Cinemas in the UK, making up some 55 screens. Curzon Cinema was acquired by Cohen Media Group in 2019. Does this mean that the Curzons are no longer independent?

Footnote: The outdoor steps immediately accessible to the rear of the cinema’s entrance were famously seen in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s film “The Passenger” (1975). This had Jack Nicholson walk up to them to pass a seated Maria Schneider, formerly the co-star of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris.” As Peter Sellars once mimicked Michael Caine on Parkinson, “Not a lot of people know that!”

The Cine Lumiere

‘The Best European Cinema in the UK’

French Institute of the United Kingdom

17 Queensberry Place

London SW7 2DW

2 Cinemas
https://www.institut-francais.org.uk/cinema/#/

Ciné Lumière offers daily screenings of new and exclusive releases, UK premieres, classics, documentaries, and family screenings, as well as series, retrospectives, and festivals. Two lines sum it up well. It is situated inside The French Institute of The UK near South Kensington Underground Station. This is the only place, aside from the BFI Southbank, to see European ‘First Run’ films and French Film Premieres in the UK. Their seating is comfortable, and the cinemas are warm. The nearest French cinema as a previous competitor was the Academy in Oxford Street, London, which closed its doors for good in the late 1980s.

Curzon Soho

‘The Best Triplex in London’

93-107 Shaftesbury Avenue

London W1D 5DY

3 Cinemas

https://www.curzon.com/venues/soho/

This was originally built pre-World War 2 as The Shaftesbury Pavilion, a Gaumont NewsReel owned cinema. It was bombed during the war and destroyed. Rebuilt in 1959, it opened as The Columbia Pictures Cinema. In 1982, Classic Cinemas took it over but were absorbed into Cannon, who sold it in 1984. It became Curzon West End in 1985. In 1998, the cinema was converted into three screens. No expense was spared by the owners and the architectural firm of Panter Hudspith Architects. Screen 1 (249 seats) uses the original proscenium, Screen 2 is the smallest (120 seats), and Screen 3 with tables and drinks holders (133 seats) are both side-by-side in the rear of the former auditorium. It reopened as the Curzon Soho on 16th October, 1998. At street level, there is a cafe selling cakes and drinks. One floor down is a roomy bar area, a great meeting place. Like Curzon Bloomsbury, the staff are helpful and friendly. Many Film Festivals operate out of this venue. Special Director Q & A Nights also take place monthly. The choice of films is both diverse and exemplary, mainly ‘First Run’ American films and International ‘Art House’ specials interspersed with retrospectives. My only mild criticism, in these times of costly heating, is that the cinemas are often quite cold, just like the old days!

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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