Whether you’re in the mood for an indie flick mid-week, Saturday night blockbuster or a black-and-white classic to while away a wintry afternoon, the city’s independent cinemas have you covered. From state-of-the-art screens in Selfridges to an Art Deco picture palace in Dalston, by way of cinematic comfort and cocktails in Notting Hill, it’s time to break out the popcorn and share a bottle of wine.
The Cinema at Selfridges
Selfridges has pressed play on its own permanent cinema, the first of its kind in a department store. Set inside its Oxford Street premises, with direct access from the street, the three-screen complex offers the latest in state-of-the-art sound and vision technologies, and a thoughtfully-curated programme including all the latest releases. Not to mention that this cinema has its very own restaurant, offering sharing plates and vegan afternoon tea. Plus there’s a bar (how delightfully decadent to have a glass of Champagne at the pictures) and a tuck shop selling silent snacks to take into the film.
400 Oxford Street, Westminster, W1
Regent Street Cinema
This is a cinema steeped in history. Built in 1848 as a theatre within Regent’s Street’s Polytechnic Institution, it became the first cinema in the country to show moving pictures when, in 1896, it showcased the Cinématographe – the ground-breaking camera and projector designed by the Lumière brothers that was to change the face of British cinema.
After a spell as a student lecture hall, it’s back to doing what it does best, with weekly listings packed with exclusive premieres, repertory screenings, retrospectives, documentaries, animation and experimental cinema, as well double bills. The bar with its global wine list, is the place for post-film discussions.
307 Regent Street, Westminster, W1
Electric Cinema Portobello
If you like your night at the movies complete with squishy armchairs and footstools, cocktails and cashmere blankets to snuggle under (there are even five double beds in the front row should you wish to recline), then The Electric in Notting Hill is for you.
Such luxury should come as no surprise when you hear that the cinema – a London institution for over 100 years – is under the Soho House umbrella (so too the new Electric Cinema White City, where members can also get discounted admission). There’s a fully-licenced bar and substantial snack menu, though you can always eat next door at the Electric Diner which serves expertly-executed American classics including cheeseburgers, hot dogs and milkshakes.
191 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, W11
Everyman Cinemas – a cinema group comprising 33 venues – first started life in 2000, when founder Daniel Broch bought the original Everyman Cinema in Hampstead, which dated to 1933. The group has since acquired other sites in town – including Islington’s much-loved Screen on the Green on Upper Street – and across the UK.
Their USP is simple: they want to bring “an innovative lifestyle approach” to their venues. By this, they mean a good glass of Merlot and a slice of freshly-made pizza served to your seat. Expect mainstream, independent and classic films, as well as a diverse calendar of live satellite broadcasts – plus a three-tier membership scheme offering multiple benefits.
5 Holly Bush Vale, Hampstead, NW3
If The Rio was a film, its story would have audiences gripped. Originally an auctioneer’s shop, owner Clara Ludski converted it into one of the city’s very first cinemas in 1909. So popular did it prove, the enterprising Clara bought up the adjacent properties to create a purpose-built picturehouse, the Kingsland Empire, which opened in 1915.
Over subsequent decades it’s been a cartoon cinema, a dedicated art house cinema and a cinema club showing ‘adult’ films with live striptease burlesque. In 1976, however, The Rio as we know it today was born, showcasing cult classics to contemporary crowd-pleasers. Its vintage signage and Art Deco interiors have been beautifully restored and a second screen and the Ludski Bar (which specialises in whiskies) added, with plans afoot to convert the roof space into a third screen. Watch this space.
107 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, E8
In the heart of Brixton, The Ritzy is the much-loved SW2 outpost of the Picturehouse group of cinemas. It originally opened in 1911 as one of England’s earliest purpose-built cinemas, but was closed some 60 years later. It was saved from demolition in the 90s, with the addition of four screens, a bar and a café – though the Edwardian exterior and the main auditorium remain intact.
Feast pre-film on the likes of pan-fried sea bass, stone-baked pizzas and sweet potato fries or head to Upstairs at the Ritzy, a live events venue. Expect all the mainstream movies, or try out Vintage Sundays – “classic films back on the big screen where they belong”.
Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, SW2
In the industry since 1934 and with 13 venues across the UK, Curzon knows a thing or two about cinema. But while film goers appreciate the comfortable, individually-designed venues, the top-notch technology and the excellent food and drink offering, it is the movies that keep them coming back.
Founder Harold Wingate imported unknown films during the post-war period and it’s this quest to introduce other worlds and cultures, and to offer a different perspective, that drives the film company’s programming ethos. Who wouldn’t love a cinema house that offers films that “we believe are worth sharing, that spark conversations and stay with you long after the lights have come up”?
38 Curzon Street, Mayfair, W1
East London’s independent cinema is so loved by locals that you’ll often find them popping in for a latte in the café or meeting friends for cocktails in the upstairs bar, never mind the films – there’s even a gallery space featuring cutting-edge exhibitions. But it would be amiss to leave out its cinematic credentials.
The space has been offering entertainment in one guise or another since 1848, with current owner Tyrone Walker-Hebborne transforming the building and opening a five-screen cinema in 1999 (his parents so loved the movies they named him after Tyrone Power and his brother Spencer after Spencer Tracy). As well as the Hollywood heavyweights, Genesis is committed to showing non-mainstream films too, as well as those celebrating diversity.
93 – 95 Mile End Road, Mile End, E1
As well as promoting the UK as a place to make films and championing the next generation of filmmakers, cultural charity BFI curates and presents an international programme of world cinema. Much of this takes place at BFI Southbank, a four-screen cinema venue which shows a huge and varied selection of classic and contemporary films, with new and re-releases, film seasons and director and actor retrospectives.
Just up the road, BFI IMAX offers a totally immersive experience, adding a whole new spin to everything from blockbusters to documentaries. Grab a table afterwards at the new Balcony Bar, order a drink and enjoy the unique views of Waterloo Bridge, whose concrete structure forms the ceiling of the space.
Belvedere Road, Southbank, SE1
Set within the Institut Français, the Ciné Lumière has established itself as one of London’s top repertory cinemas. Completed refurbished in 2008 and reopened by none other than Catherine Deneuve, the elegant Art Deco auditorium is the place to go if your interest particularly lies in French and foreign language films.
Keep an eye on the website, too, as there are always special screenings, festivals and the revisiting of much-loved classics. Last year saw the arrival of Ciné Lumière II, a new 35-seat boutique cinema set in the lower ground floor of the Grade II listed Institut. As this is South Kensington, there are plenty of cosy neighbourhood cafés and bistros for cinema chit chat afterwards.
Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, South Kensington, SW7