Words Gordon Ritchie
Photography Etienne Gilfillan
“Moving to a Central London location is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. All that we’ve been doing so far has been leading to this.”
The Opening Scene. A black screen. A voiceover; “Something incredible happens when the lights go out and the film starts.” The Picture House. The name stirs up a vague recollection. I can picture the logo. Not trendy, not fashionable, a touch quirky, slightly retro. Harking back to the peak celluloid era, the seventies. That decade’s version of Jay Gatsby’s jazz age. Discreet. The Picture House. It used to be a common phrase “I wonder what’s on at The Picture House?”
The screen opens to a montage; “The idea has always been to create an alternative to the multiplex experience. Each Picturehouse cinema is unique in it’s own way.”I’d been to the Gate in Notting Hill and I’d seen signs out in Qxford and darkest Dalston. Survivors, independent, keeping the Hammer Horror werewolves from the door. This was the impression I got. Cinemas run for fans by fans, staffed by students, motivated by pleasure not profit. Marketing Manager, Toby King explains “Picturehouse is 25 years old, co-founded by Lyn Golby who remains Managing Director. The first cinema acquired was the Phoenix in Oxford. Since, Picturehouse have been acquiring and building cinemas, and now have over 20 sites across the country and more on the way.”
So this was the same people, now opening in a prime London property – one block from Piccadilly, in the old Trocadero – with seven screens to provide screams, laughter and tears. An amusement park full of emotional rollercoaster rides, using what someone once called, and a million have repeated ‘the greatest art form of all’. “Soho is an essential part of the UK’s film and creative industries and we’re proud to be rubbing shoulders here. Moving to a Central London location is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. All that we’ve been doing so far has been leading to this. It might be a bold statement but it’s one we’re ready for and we’re thrilled to be here. We know we have something to offer the cinema scene in the West-End. We’ve hit the ground running.”
A white tile exterior at ground level shows how this corner has changed. Under the pillars that support the white tiled ceiling hang large lampshades that on a foggy London night could make quite a noir-ish rendezvous for men in trench coats and fedoras to meet femme fatales in hats, coats and heels. Kiss them curtly, capture their hearts and hurry them inside to watch Humphrey and Greta in black and white. A boulevard of hopes and dreams. And Toby King hopes the cinema’s selections reflect its aspirations. “What’s important for us is playing the best films. At Central on any given day we could be playing the latest blockbuster as well as a surprisingly fantastic documentary about sheep breeders in Yorkshire or a strand of LGBT films or the latest quirky US comedy or a new release of a classic.”
A quick look to see what’s on reveals a real variety show. From music documentaries to blockbusters and classics for the kids to smaller quirky indie films, the signs are looking good. Glancing into the lobby, I see a majestic staircase, adorned with amazing illustrations and lit by a meteoric shower of glowing. The ground floor cafe looks impressive with its wooden floorboards, 50s style furniture in pastel hues, young smartly clad staff and the white and silver all important retro coffee machine. ”We want people to relax and enjoy the space in cinemas.”
In the cafe there is a little buzz, but not overly busy, easy to find a seat. I sit back and try to decipher the story of what the illustrations on the walls are trying to say. Modern and edgy interpretations of cinema’s colourful history. I’m drawn to see a film. Up the stairs, a spacious colourful bar on the left, on the right the donuts look delicious but we settle for popcorn, always a winner. Up to Screen 7, up multiple escalators and floors adorned with original frescoes and a soon to be opened members bar promising what should be incredible roof terraces. “The Members Bar should be opening in October. It’s a stunning space. Located over 2 floors with a roof terrace offering wonderful views over Piccadilly and Haymarket. It’s going to be a beautiful cocktail bar.” This Picture House is a work in progress, but the final result should be a real hot ticket.
Arriving at our cinema, we settle into the comfy sofa style seat for two in the back row. Finally we made it to our destination! After the film, it’s back to the First floor bar. This is a cool space. Yellow leather low lying sofas and green upholstered chairs are spread out across the room. It’s open, relaxing and not too loud. The food tested and tasted is good and it’s a great place to talk, with great views on the street life below. As Soho fights to retain it’s sense of uniqueness, this cinema has taken one of the biggest and boldest moves yet. In every sense it’s Rocky taking on Apollo Creed, it’s Mission Impossible is to survive in the centre of the West-End with an independent style swagger. Support your local cinema, and they’ll give it back to you in left field selections, special events, and tasty popcorn and donuts, and so much more. “We are holding special events, premieres, various film festivals, Q&As, party’s almost daily as well as our regular programming. We are also a main venue for this years London Film Festival and we’ll be hosting Sundance Film Festival London in June 2016.”There is a whole crew working behind the scenes to make Picturehouse Central a success and they deserve credit. Soho wills and needs them to succeed. As the credits roll on the wall with the names of early supporters of this immense effort, remember this was really only the beginning. The screen fades to black. The End.