There’s something special and different about visiting an independent cinema as opposed to going to a branch of a big chain cinema. Often they are in unusual or historic buildings and there’s usually a community behind them that makes going along to see a film a much more satisfying experience. The choice of films is often a bit different too. There’s more likely to be something a bit arty, or niche, or just a film created on a lower budget, but who knows it might be the first film of next big director or an early chance to see an actor that is going on to greater things. You can even get the chance to suggest films or types of film and have an influence on future programming. All in all a visit to an independent cinema is a great experience, and London is a good place to dip your toe into a new world of film. You could even make a day out of it by combining a cinema trip with a indulgent foodie treat like the Montcalm London afternoon tea.
Crouch End’s Art House cinema opened in 2014 in a former Salvation Army Hall and is now established on the London arts scene. More than just a cinema though, the Arthouse is a mix of the worlds of film, art, live music, theatre, dance, workshops, comedy, and more. It’s inclusive too as there are sessions for parents with babes in arms; sensory impaired screenings; and special deals for the over 60s.
Portbello Road’s Electric Cinema is one of the oldest working cinemas in the country dating back to February 1911. The Electric has long been at creative hotspot. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, cinema enthusiasts turned it into art-house cinema. Today, viewers can enjoy leather armchairs with footstools or two-seater sofas or even one of the six double beds in the front row. The cosiness continues with snuggly cashmere blankets and there’s a choice of snacks and drinks from the fully-licensed bars.
The Lexi Cinema in Kensal Green is a boutique, independent cinema that’s housed inside a renovated Edwardian theatre. As a charitable social enterprise it donates all its profits to charity, but the other great thing about it is that its community run and many of the friendly staff are volunteers. That doesn’t mean it is short on comfort though as there’s comfy seating, a stunning sound-system and a cosy bar.
For me when I think of a cinema that Art Deco look that springs to mind. Art Deco was at its height at the time of a great expansion for cinemas and many cinemas boast Art Deco features. The Rio Cinema in east London opened in 1915. It now has Grade II-listed status having been designed by George Coles, the architect who would become a prolific creator of Art Deco cinemas and the Rio gained its Art Deco good looks when it was refurbished in 1937.
For a trip back into film history, try the Regent Street Cinema which is the birthplace of British cinema. This is the location where in 1896, the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe was first shown to a paying audience. In the interim it spent many years being used as a student lecture hall, but more recently it was restored into a working cinema featuring a state-of-the-art auditorium. The cinema is one of the few in the country to show 16mm and 35mm film, as well as the latest in 4K digital film, so you will be able to see something different here.