Going to the movies in London can be a great occasion, whatever the film you wish to see. Whether it’s big-screen, arthouse, outdoors screenings or ‘underground’ cinema you’re after, London has it all – and a number of cinemas are architectural wonders in themselves.
I’d love for example to see The Sound of Music (despite it not being my favourite film) at the amazing Electric on Portobello Road. Its metallic dome and baroque arched frontage put you on notice that it’s a bit special (in fact it’s Grade II listed) and inside it’s first class for everyone, with a mosaic decorated foyer and leather armchairs in the cinema itself. Sadly, it’s currently closed for refurbishment.
So much for Art Nouveau; if it’s Art Deco you want head for Dalston where the Rio (formerly the Kingsland Empire) has the streamlined look of the Jazz Age. It may not look much from the outside but inside it’s spectacular, the great curving roof of the auditorium painted in bright pinks and pastel blues. The Rio shows a mix of arthouse and the latest releases and also serves the local community with children’s shows and Turkish movies.
Screen on the Green, Islington, is another architectural gem – a huge barrel-vault spanning the auditorium. Though its façade looks utilitarian by day, when the huge arch over the entrance is lit at night it’s an amazing spectacle. The programme isn’t restricted to cinema – comedy, puppetry and live music all have their place on the stage in front of the screen too.
The Phoenix, East Finchley, is another early cinema that’s been nicely fixed up – it started life as the East Finchley Picturedome in 1910. While it’s not quite as exciting architecturally as some other movie houses, its programme is adventurous and the homemade cakes in the cafe are worth a detour!
Real film buffs should head to the BFI South Bank, which runs several film festivals and has a Mediatheque for free access to hundreds of movies and TV films from the national archives (great for the obsessive, or film students). Seasons of work by great directors also give fans an opportunity to see less celebrated works and put the ‘greats’ in context.
The recent trend is towards luxury “lounge cinemas” with gourmet food and a much more intimate experience than the standard multiplex. The Lounge at Whiteleys is one of the pioneers, serving up restaurant quality food from a menu devised by Rowley Leigh of Le Café Anglais, whilst you recline in large leather seats (there are only 50). A classy night out.
The deal comprises a Grey Goose martini cocktail, a film in the intimate Screening Room (which seats just 30), popcorn and a 3-course meal in the hotel’s Axis restaurant.
W London also offers a premium cinema experience with its W Film Club, just round the corner from Leicester Square for a reasonable £15 ticket including free popcorn or £20 for a VIP ticket including a drink from the bar.
Finally, if you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful cinema option the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square is definitely worth a visit. Offering the ‘retro’ cinema experience, the Prince Charles’ shows both classic and more recent films often with attractive promotional offers.
Looking for films which use London as a backdrop? Check out our list of the top 10 films which use London as a backdrop.
Note: prices quoted above are subject to change at any time.