I love going to the cinema. Back in the days of 2-for-1 Orange Wednesdays and cheap student tickets in my university town of Nottingham, I used to go all the time. Sometimes almost on a weekly basis. The problem with having a cinema addiction in London (and in a lot of other places for that matter) is the price. It often ain’t cheap. That’s why I like going to cinemas with something extra – like being an open air screen or an independent place where you can eat cake while sitting on armchairs. Thankfully, London is not short of such places.
1. The Ritzy (Picturehouse), Brixton
The Ritzy shows a mixture of films, including both mainstream blockbusters, independent films, plus some classics as well. Tickets generally range from £10-£13, depending the day and time you go, but £7 tickets are offered on Mondays (3D tickets are more but still less than a tenner). There are several Picturehouse cinemas that can be found both inside London and out but I can vouch that this one is more interesting than your average cinema. Screen One is a large room which looks more like a theatre than a cinema (which reminded me very much of my old regular Nottingham cinema – The Savoy – even if it was more expensive). The chairs are comfy and there is also a decent amount of leg room, which is probably my main criteria for good cinemas.
2. Screen on the Green (Everyman), Angel
Screen On The Green is part of the Everyman Cinemas network. There are about 16 screens around the country, several of which are in London. The name made it sound like an open air cinema, and I wondered why my friend suggested such a place in January, but it turned out not to be. Instead, I found a small, boutique cinema on Upper Street. The place had the feel of an independent cinema and there seemed to be only one screen. Tickets are £15 – plus a booking fee if you buy them online.
I intended to get popcorn on my way in but couldn’t see anywhere I buy it, until I got into the screen itself. There was an actual bar at the back of the room that sold alcoholic drinks, along with hot snacks, tea, coffee, sweets, popcorn and cake. I was feeling a bit skint but knew if I didn’t eat soon my stomach would rumble through the screening and that’s just awkward and annoying- so I bought a slice of carrot cake. I also got a bit swept up in the novelty of it all and went for a cup of green tea as well. It came to £6.70 for both which it kinda pricey but the cake was tasty and the tea was really nice. The girl behind the bar told me it was quite floral-tasting and she was not wrong.
If you were willing to fork out a bit more for seats, you could get one of the comfy armchairs along the side of the room. These seemed to fit two people each. But, as it was the standard seats were still comfy, with plenty of legroom. There was also a small tabletop surface between each couple of chairs, which wasn’t quite enough room for both my plates but thankfully the chair next to me was empty so no one else needed to use it. I therefore blagged it for my tea and kept my cake plate on my lap.
3. The Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square
Everyone knows that Leicester Square has a big cinema scene – if you’re hoping for a sight of an A-lister on the red carpet this is the place for you – but the big Odeon and Vue are expensive and not the most characterful places. Enter: Prince Charles. If you want an independent cinema in the West End then this is the only place for you. The cinema is on a lane just off Leicester Square next to the restaurants of Chinatown. Tickets for non-members generally range from £8 for screenings during the day on weekdays to £11.50 for screenings at the weekend or in the evening (or £16 for a sing-a-long session). The films on show include new releases, old classics and some serious marathons, like the Lord of the Rings extended editions if you’re up for an all nighter. The backs of the seats are springy, so you can lean back into them, meaning that you don’t have to stay in the same rigid upright position for hours but they don’t lean so far back that you will encroach on the person behind’s personal space. All in all, it’s a win win.
4. One Summer Screen, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens
Vauxhall One Summer Screen takes place for four weeks during July, showing a free movie every Tuesday evening, with visitors being able to vote on the final film. That’s the viewing I went to, where The Breakfast Club was played. The Summer Screen is hosted in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and visitors are advised to arrive at 7pm to start grabbing spots, although the movie doesn’t start until 9pm. as it starts to get dark. I arrived sometime between 7.30-7.45pm and the place was pretty busy but I still managed to find a decent patch of ground a little far back to set up my blanket. There was the option of renting a deckchair for £5 but I decided to spend money on food instead, as there were a handful of street food stands lined up along one side of the gardens.
I can’t say that I was particularly comfortable, having to sit on the hard ground for over an hour and a half. The £5 deckchair definitely would have been worth it. It was also chilly, even thought I had brought a blanket to snuggle under (I felt guilty about being the only one of my party to have a blanket but I was cold so I got over it). Next time, I will bring jumpers and cushions. You live and learn.
5. Roof East (Rooftop Cinema Club), Stratford
Over the summer months, a handful of London’s rooftops open up for movie-goers in Peckham, Shoreditch, Shadwell, Kensington and, in this case, Stratford. The films on offer are the classics and some more recent favourites. I saw Dirty Dancing and it was the perfect evening.
Roof East is located on level 8 of the Stratford Centre car park, which is opposite one exit of Stratford. You’re going to want to make sure you get the right exit. I went out by the Westfield Centre and ended up taking a 20-minute detour. Once you actually make it up there, you’ll find a rooftop bar, mini golf course, surprisingly not gross toilets and street food in the form of Rockadollar Dogs. They are expensive for hot dogs but they are damn tasty. At one end is the open air cinema, with rows of deckchairs lined up in front of it on a lining of faux grass. Tickets are £15.00 (plus a £1.50 online booking fee). That may not be cheap but that does come with a blanket (this helps but I’d still bring another one if you can) and there’s a free photobooth for customer use. My film was due to start at 8.45pm but by the time it was dark enough it was closer to 9pm. You listen to the film through headphones, and I did have to change the channel constantly as mine kept getting a bit static-y but that didn’t really cause much of a problem. Popcorn is £3 but comes free if you book your ticket through Time Out.
Films are shown whatever the weather (unless it’s borderline dangerous of course) and, since this is England, I unsurprisingly got a bit of rain during my screening. As the rain started to spit, the film started to stick. Since the rain was only light, I figured this must have been a coincidence. The movie froze and skipped slightly in a couple of places. The first time as Patrick Swayze walked in for the final scene. Thankfully, it came back just in time for his classic line: Nobody puts Baby in a corner. Although apparently they do put her on a rooftop in Stratford.
6. Odeon BFI IMAX, Waterloo
The Odeon BFI IMAX might not be a quirky, independent theatre or an open air cinema but it is meant to be the biggest screen in the UK. The screen itself is pretty impressive, being both big and curved, and the showing felt like a bit of an occasion, with the screening being introduced before it began. I’m not usually that fussed about 3D and, to be honest, I always basically stop noticing that films are 3D not far in but on this occasion the 3D was actually pretty good. I’m not entirely sure I would say it was worth the £17.80 price tag but it wasn’t not worth it either.