I’m putting this straight out there – I love going to the cinema. Nothing gets me more excited than finally being able to watch a blockbuster I’ve been dying to see on the big screen, and yes, I’m one to get emotional doing it! But sometimes I think we can get a little sick of the modern multiplex experience. The tickets seem to be getting more and more expensive, the food is astronomical, and sometimes you might not be able to see ahead of you. Are we really getting our money’s worth these days?
Well, some cinemas like to think a little differently. And in the UK in particular we’re lucky to have an arts scene that allows independent cinemas across the country to flourish. They don’t just offer a film – they offer an experience. So, that’s why I’d like to take you on a little tour around some of my favourite cinemas I’ve found. There’s everything from the vintage, open-air, and artsy to even one…well, let’s say very special cinema experience in particular. Aaaaand action!
Coolest and quirkiest cinemas across the UK
Vintage Mobile Cinema
This one is just too cute for me to pass up! A small team have lovingly restored ‘Audrey’, a gorgeous mobile cinema commissioned by the Ministry of Industry in the late 1960s to promote modern industry techniques. Unfortunately all were decommissioned and scrapped…apart from this one. After a string of successive owners and being left in a field to rust, the team behind the Vintage Mobile Cinema have restored this old girl to her former glory – and my goodness, doesn’t she look good! Inside you’ll find a pint-sized air-conditioned cinema large enough to sit 22 people. The seating is tiered and there’s even Dolby 7:1 surround sound. Audrey can be hired for all sorts of events across Wales and England and can be shipped further afield for an extra price and comes with a small team who’ll run it all for you. She also attends plenty of vintage and retro car events and numerous festivals across the country. Keep your eye out for her!
Rooftop Cinema Club – London (various locations)
One for the summer! The Rooftop Cinema Club is found in four locations in London: Peckham Rye, Shoreditch, Stratford and Kensington. Each one offers amazing views of the London skyline, and as the sun sets you can watch the city slowly come to life! They provide cute deckchairs and blankets, so you can keep yourself snug when the evening chill starts to set in. You’ll also be given digital wireless headphones which you use to listen to the film, meaning you’ll get great sound quality. Drinks and snacks are available. In the Peckham and Stratford sites there are film-themed cocktails to slurp on and you can munch on a free snack from the coal-fired BBQ at Kensington before exploring the rooftop gardens as you wait for the film to start. The perfect way to enjoy the long, summer evenings! You can keep up-to-date with their screenings and events over on their website.
The Rex – Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
The BBC said that The Rex is “possibly Britain’s most beautiful cinema.” I’d have to agree with them! This stunning Art Deco cinema from 1938 has been carefully restored, retaining many original features such as the scallop shell lights and the intricately designed proscenium arch. There’s a bar in the auditorium and the lower level does away with regular seating – instead there are round tables that you can sit around and enjoy your drinks. The Rex keeps an element of live entertainment alive, with an announcer introducing each film and live music acts brought in to accompany silent films. They also show a mix of blockbusters and older, lesser known films as well, so you’ll never get bored of the line-up. Adjacent to the cinema is The Gatsby bar, a place that oozes with vintage style and features live acts and jazz bands. I love it! Places like this make me feel like a vintage moviestar and it makes for a really classy night out. Stick on your Sunday best and hit the town, folks!
Cube – Bristol
There’s no denying that Bristol has an amazing arts scene, so it’s the perfect place to go looking for quirky, independent cinemas. I really like the look of this one – this ‘microplex’ was founded by 4 artists who originally dabbled in illegal cinema speakeasy events. The building itself has seen itself being used for all sorts of purposes, but the owners have kept the seating, wooden panelling and stages that were built by the amateur drama group that occupied the building before. As a result it’s got a real rough charm to it, and it’s run entirely by volunteers! They even make their own cola. There’s a cute little garden on the roof and there are regular events here for both the young and old, such as the Cabaret of Curiosities and the Ausform micro-festival. You’ll have to purchase membership to see screenings, but seeing as it only costs £1 I think it’s one of the best investments you could ever make!
Backyard Cinema – Camden Lock, London
Another fantastic open-air cinema open during the summer, the Backyard Cinema is quietly tucked away by the canal, hidden from the colourful goings-on of Camden. In fact, this winter they’ve upped sticks and moved to Victoria Park, where they’ve set up a magical indoor cinema, Winterville. You’ll be able to get comfy on the beanbags and couches and enjoy the wide range of films they’ve screening. If you’re looking to for a perfect date night the folks at Backyard Cinema have got you covered: if you buy the Red Carpet package you’ll get tickets for two, food, popcorn and ice cream, a bottle of Prosecco and a blanket to cuddle up in. Lovely! Backyard Cinema also host a whole load of other events, with past ones including: a screening of Romeo & Juliet held in a church and accompanied by a choir; Apocalypse 2014, where viewers made their way to the End of the World party while surviving their way through multiple rooms full of actors and a zombie film screening; several awards ceremonies; pop-up bars…the list goes on! There’s something different every year – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what they come up with!
Broadway Cinema – Nottingham
The Broadway in Nottingham is a trendy number – there’s a wide selection of films ranging from blockbusters to art house hits and theatre shows. But here’s the cool bit – you can hire out all the space you need! Whether it’s a business meeting or party, there’s meeting rooms, lounges and bars available, not to mention it’s possible to rent any one of the four screens. The lounge has some really plush leather sofas and you can even have the TV projected on the wall, perfect for a spot of footy. The Broadway has some of the best looking cinema spaces in the country – Paul Smith even designed the seating for one of the cinema screens! You won’t be disappointed by the food here either as the bars offer a wide range of food that’ll get your mouth watering, and there’s a good range of vegan and vegetarian options. For £14 you’ll be able to watch a film and enjoy a meal as well – bargain! Events are commonplace here too – my favourite one is Cinebar, where – as you probably guess – they screen classics films such as Wayne’s World and Enter the Dragon at the bar, meaning that you can watch a movie and enjoy your drinks in a really relaxed environment. According to the website there was even a sing-along screening of The Wicker Man… need I say more!
I’ve saved the best to last – just don’t tell any one about it, OK? Secret Cinema isn’t a cinema per se. In fact, if you’re lucky to ever get tickets to one of their shows you’ll have the most incredible cinema experience ahead of you. I was lucky enough to attend one of their shows in August, so I’ll tell you a little about how it works. First, you buy the tickets. But here’s the catch – you won’t know what film it’ll be, or even where it’s being screened! Everything is a mystery, and even their website won’t reveal anything to you at first. Eventually you’ll start receiving little pieces of information. That’s when I found out that my show was a screening of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I had to log into a secret website where I was told what costume to wear (yes, you read correctly!), what items to bring, and a cryptic map of the location. So, the day eventually came. I was in Canada Water, London, and I knew straight away I was in the right place – there were floods of people all dressed in home-made Star Wars outfits! We were then quickly ushered into an old warehouse complex…and here is where things really start to go wild.
See, what makes Secret Cinema so unbelievably amazing is the fact that they make you feel as if you were in the film yourself. The staff were dressed in impeccable costumes, and the warehouse was decorated so well you actually felt like you were in a movie set! You can interact with everyone and anyone and be a part of your own story in the film’s universe. The performance ended with us in a Death Star watching a life-sized X Wing Fighter swooping in from above, and then the film itself was screened in a massive hall that had been turned into an actual cinema. It was absolutely mind-blowing! You can see for yourself what kind of crazy things we were up to in this trailer for it.
Secret Cinema have covered all sorts of films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Back to the Future, Lawrence of Arabia – and the list goes on and on! Just keep checking back on their website and eventually something new will come along. Trust me when I say it’s something you really can’t afford to miss!
See? A night out at the movies can really be something special! This is just a tiny fraction of the awesome cinemas tucked away across the UK – it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes peeled! If you have a local cinema you love that’s a little quirky, charming or just different, let me know! I’d love to hear from you!