It’s more than just a film

By Max Jewell, Senior Account Director

Nestled just behind Leicester Square, a little way adrift from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite independent cinema. The Prince Charles Cinema, which has refused to elevate itself to kingship even after its namesake was, has long been a site of pilgrimage for film fans across the world.

The stubborn attachment to an anachronistic name is perhaps emblematic. As mainstream cinemas serve up an increasingly restricted diet of Marvel films, the Prince Charles stands apart, instead delving deep into the archive to screen old classics. Of course, the Prince Charles is not London’s only repertory cinema, but it is perhaps the most strangely charming.

For one, there is a decided air of difference: even the raked seating, which bends inwards like a satellite dish, sets it apart from any other cinema in London. Few other cinemas give patrons the chance to sit though all-night film marathons: where else is it possible to see four of the Friday the 13th films in one go? Which other cinema will so frequently show Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-just-bad The Room to packed, hootering audiences (whilst having to ban visitors from throwing spoons at each other)? Which other cinema would name a toilet cubicle after director Kevin Smith?

Like many venues, cinemas were battered by the pandemic. Amidst headlines foretelling the demise of certain cinema chains, efforts have been made to encourage audiences from their sofas and into screening rooms, typified by Saturday’s National Cinema Day. The Prince Charles Cinema, and the success of Barbenheimer, demonstrates precisely how cinema can keep itself alive.

Going to the cinema should be an experience – and one where the auditorium should be every bit as memorable as the screen itself. The red velvet seats of the Prince Charles’ large screen; its strange seventies-style title cards, lifted straight from a 42nd Street Grindhouse, promising a ‘prevue of coming attractions’; its unique smell that sticks to hair and clothes for weeks, are all part of the appeal.

Other cinemas create an experience, too. No-one who visits The Phoenix will ever forget the art deco panels that adorn the screen’s walls. The Everyman attracted large summer crowds when it set up a screen on the banks of the King’s Cross Canal. Even larger chains are able to bottle a little magic: the foyer of the Vue in Portsmouth, for instance, was once ringed by a crown of television screens that made buying a ticket feel like a trip into the bowels of the Nostromo.

And more recently, in adding Barbie boxes to foyers and encouraging patrons to dress in pink, mainstream cinemas turned the release of Greta Gerwig’s film into an experience. For the duration of the film, viewers lived inside a plastic reality. Receipts for Barbie, which have topped $1.3bn worldwide, surely demonstrate the success of such a tactic.

Cinemas will probably never disappear. Even watching a film in a cramped, noisy and smelly auditorium will surpass small-screen viewing at home. But if cinemas want to flourish, the lessons for this Saturday is surely to remember the importance of experience.

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