Belfast Queen’s Film Theatre

qft ticket 001

Arts cinemas with names ending in FT for film theatre aren’t uncommon, especially if they were born in the late 60s when these were dished out. But having the first letter stand for a person, and more rightly, a university, is unique in Britain and Ireland.

Queen’s is named for missy Victoria, and the Oxbridge looking red brick edifice dates from quite early in her reign. I did intend to watch a film about her – the second time exactly 20 years apart where I kept company with Judi Dench in that role, in my first time in a Celtic land’s capital. But she and Abdul (I want to say Paula) were not along until after I’d left.

I did see the kind of film that I most associate with this kind of cinema – foreign language, often effects free, people focussed dramas. QFT’s having a big birthday next year and it had a makeover not long ago, but I like the thought of preserving the original arts cinema feel.

So much gets updated to survive – as they claimed here – but it means we have few original features, in anything. Cinemas have so often been ripped out and altered, like an intensely dug garden. We need some permaculture ethos.

Queen’s feels like the standard film theatre inside, but the outside and setting is rather different. No it’s not part of that Lanyon building, one of the few sights of Belfast I knew before I visited. It’s in a terrace down the side of it, and the sign posts are wrong so I ended up doing a tour of the area, also called Queens, by accident.

The entrance is very subtle: no logo, no film posters (there’s some in an alley nearby), just the name on the lintel, as if it were the name of a house, and the initials inside, if the door’s open.

Inside, staff were very lovely and I enjoyed chatting to a few, who remembered me the next day. The bar does “cinema food” – Chichester said that. By which they mean Pringles and Magnums, and cakes if you’re quick (I wasn’t). But there are other eateries nearby.

I was sorry that the bar closes with the start of the last film, so you can’t chat after a later film in here, and that’s something I didn’t find an alternative for.

Prices are reasonable – compared to what I’m often faced with, though they told me that I was the only person who’d said so. Only £4 on Mondays!

And they stick to art house programming. It seems this is Northern Ireland’s only arty cinema – the rest seem to be multiplex chains, and I’ve only found two in the republic.

What would’ve been really fitting was to have seen a film on the theme of why I was there, one of which also has a birthday soon. It’s the theme of my second novel, and it’s going to be a film/play too. I of course refer to the Belfast-built Titanic.


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Bath Little Theatre Cinema

Another cinema which is an important point in my personal history. This was the cinema that I first was professionally engaged at. I was invited to teach a course on history in film – which ultimately never came off – but I did get to know the lovely manager, who’s still there.

It was the second cinema I joined – my first Picturehouse.

The Little is another of the few cinemas which would work for my novel, Parallel Spirals. I need somewhere old, charming, art house and with a balcony.

Screen 1 has just that; the balcony returned to use when I lived in the area, in 2007.

Screen 2 is another case of the other screens being also-rans, much smaller and without the rather nice cosiness of the original auditorium. It’s where I saw my last film at the Little. I was a bit sorry when I found out where I’d be.

The Little is suitably classical looking for Bath. Although celebrating its 80th in 2015, I thought that the cinema conversion was to an extant building, but I cannot confirm this. (It’s a shame that Picturehouses no longer has the history feature on its website). It’s one of the cinemas that really suits its city, in architecture and in atmosphere – it is what you might expect of Bath. Unfortunately, being an old cinema means that there’s little space for educational rooms (as I found out) or cafes – they have a kiosk and you can take your wares onto the pavement (or screen). There’s also little queuing space.

The cinema is not easy to find. It is near the Cross and Thermae baths, down a passage.

It now has a sister, as at Brighton – a Komedia live arts venue which also shows films. And this has a cafe. Unlike Brighton, Komedia Bath is in an interesting building, also a former cinema, and is the most special place to view a film.

Otherwise, Bath’s just an Odeon multiplex city, although it’s more discreet than elsewhere, as you’d expect at Bath. In the suburbs of Larkhall (redolent of Bad Girls TV prison) is the Rondo Theatre which has projection facilities. Bath has a film festival in November which utilises both the Little and the Rondo. It has a former cinema near the bus station which is now an evangelical church and venue, and two theatres – one amateur and one very grand; the grand one incorporates the other former arty cinema, the Robins – now called The Egg.

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Durham Gala

Digital CameraI always felt that Durham was underrepresented by cinema. For at least 20 years, it’s had just one. The previous incarnation was a purpose built 1930s picture house on North Road. Last seen as a Robins, the former national chain who own the Prince Charles in Leicester Square, the four screener has been empty after becoming a theme bar, a Chinese restaurant, and now is used by Mormons pending a new owner. Note that its road to closure began over a multiplex plan which never happened.

At the predictable millennium, a new complex was created including a library, tourist information centre (now deceased though some leaflets are available here), and the Gala.

The Gala might be Durham’s first theatre in a while – I couldn’t find one on my visit 20 years ago (when I sampled the Robins), or in any guides from then. It seemed that any live arts were on university territory.

The Gala’s a white modern building without much to distinguish or offend. The wide pavement in front tells us that by entering, we indemnify them against accidents, but we’ve had to walk some way to see the sign, and it speaks really badly of the owners.

You can’t get to the Gala without it, which is the city’s only arts venue.

But now it’s next to a clump of bars called Walkergate, which means that your theatre experience could be hampered. It makes the Gala’s river facing bar rowdier.

There is a main theatrical auditorium and then the two screens are in the bowels – literally. Like the Nick Hornby movie, it’s a long way down. I saw screen 1, which is quite large and very steeply raked, but not special. Film posters past and present herald you’re coming to a movie zone, but it still doesn’t create a cinematic atmosphere.

Upstairs, the wide foyer doesn’t have many seats. There’s a free small gallery which is open late. When I was last there, its exhibition was ‘11 million reasons to dance’ – film take offs by disabled people, such as iconic mountain climbing Maria from the Sound of Music, but in a wheelchair, or a one legged Black Swan. It’s meant to celebrate the achievements of those with a disability and the right of us all to express ourselves in movement. But what struck me was how many amputees we have. I wondered if that 11m figure (it’s how many registered disabled people there are in Britain) might be lower if our medical beliefs about chopping off what seems damaged were altered. And thus some disability is unnecessary.

So with that very much in mind, I went and saw a film about disfigurement of a different kind, which I review here.

I learned that Durham’s 2 screen situation is about to augment enormously. Not just one ten screen Odeon’s coming, but an Everyman too, in the great holes currently being made, spoiling the heritage city which does very well without them. And not to build something in pastiche like at Bath’s Southgate. I squealed when I saw what is planned.

I of course would suggest that the North Road cinema would do well to be an arts cinema for Durham. Funny that it’s managed without multiplexes all these years and with Newcastle so close, do you need them? Let those who want movie megaliths go to the Metro centre, and use the old Robins with the miner’s hall next door to make something really interesting and apt for Durham, and have the Gala as a miniplex.

County Durham also has the Lamplight centre at Stanley (now called the Civic Hall) and the Empire at Consett – more like what I’d like to see here.



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Newcastle Tyneside Cinema

I firstly need to lament 2 cinemas in Geordieland. I mentioned before the destruction of the West Jesmond Picturehouse. Now the Odeon opposite today’s subject is also due for demolition, abandoned for the nearby entertainment venue The Gate c2002, and then Odeon departed central Newcastle in 2006 as the new Odeon became an Empire. Cunningly, the Pilgrim St Odeon’s art deco fittings were removed and thus it could be argued that there was nothing worth preserving here.

I now learn that two days ago the Odeon collapsed! I’m very suspicious.

I am sad that the Tyneside cinema couldn’t have used the old Odeon when it augmented, instead of adding the little extra screens.

The Tyneside is very much a case in point of my Single Screens – it’s the experience that counts argument. There is only one screen I’m interested in – the Classic. I’ll show it to you in a minute. Its seats 263 including the gallery (circle), whereas the other 4 seat 30, 33, 89 and 132, and none have any character. Unlike the Classic.

It’s a shame that the website is all close ups of glass and seats, and not really showcasing the spaces available.

The Tyneside was the first cinema I joined – here is my membership card and my first ever ticket, in the days when the second screen (the Electra) was a flat attic with eggboxes on the walls.

Tyneside1 tyneside

That was before the refurb, when the logo changed, and the blue neon and typewriting font became silvery. Unlike other cinemas in places starting with the letter N, the restoration was on time.

The Tyneside likes to remind is it’s Britain’s last newsreel theatre and so it rightly shows these still – I saw one recently, to commemorate the anniversary of India becoming independent. It’s an anniversary year for the Tyneside, who is ten years older. I also got a free tour by an enthusiastic lady who then disappointed me by confessing her love and knowledge is of golden age cinema and her youth, but not current films. So much about cinema is fixed on nostalgia of this kind, but this blog has always been about living cinema and renewal as much as the early twentieth century picture palaces.

I’m as interested in the 1960s change at Tyneside when the newsreels gave way to the art house fare which had already been shown here to film societies. They have the first listing poster on display still.

The outside isn’t all that cinema-y. The entrance has tiles to help reflect light in the alley, but the box office was originally a little further along, where the little cafe on the street is. The canopy always has been weeny. The front was built as offices to hire, part of the business plan. But it’s inside that’s interesting.

There are two floors of these Moorish looking plastered ceilings, and then there’s the main auditorium. It’s an odd mix of the straight 1930s lines of Stowmarket’s Regal and a fussy, older decor to the proscenium arch and curtains, yet the ceiling’s plain.

The balcony is now expensive but I’m told that was a return to the original, which was part of the deal with funding the refurbishment. But it is a bit exclusive – especially if you’re not a couple, as several seats are doubles.

Digital Camera

Here it is – the Tyneside Classic original screen, the one we pay for!

The Coffee Rooms never quite hit the olde cinema mark intended. In my Newcastle life, they closed mid evening (now 10pm) and apart from the tiny coffee and cocktails almost booth (then Intermezzo, now Vicolo), that was it for drinking and eating here. And in an eat OR drink culture that puts cafe chilling definitely as an afternoon pursuit, it mattered that Newcastle didn’t have that kind of bar. Now it does – for the Tyneside’s got another one where a building society was. It’s open all day and evening, and has a suitably theatrical curtained off area. You can eat and drink and chill, although it’s not huge and is understandably busy, whereas the larger tea rooms upstairs are more cafe-like.

The film fare has got more mainstream, as with elsewhere – they were showing Beauty and the Beast when I was last there, but there’s lots of other bits… yet they are bitty as they’re not shown so much and are in the little screening rooms, and rarely in the room we want to sit in.

Newcastle’s got two other interesting cinemas which puts it high on my radar – the Side and the Star and Shadow in Ouseburn. These are volunteer run and properly quirky – one has an informal relationship with Bristol’s Cube.

Otherwise, this is a multiplex city and only one is central – the rest are spread about the suburbs and most are not even in Newcastle. The other cinema in Tyne and Wear which is of interest is South Shield’s Custom House. I’ll let you know if I get to those.

But for now, I’ll close by saying that Tyneside staff are still friendly and helpful and I remember the generosity with his time of the programmer when I was interested in setting up my own cinema – I may still do so. It is deservedly well loved, and although more pricey than some other cinemas in the area, it is much better than the ridiculously expensive south.

The final reason that this cinema is meaningful to me is that it’s just the sort I imagine for my novel, where my characters go to a special cinema, up in the gallery, for a story within the story about the power of cinema. And this looks more like the auditorium I had in mind than the place I set it does now. One for the film adaptation?

And, people of Newcastle, I finished my first draft whilst living here and being a member.


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Lowestoft Marina

Digital Camera

I enjoy little excursions to try out new cinemas and theatres. The Marina is both, and as aptly named, being near one. As a theatre its programme is fairly what I call knees up, with many tribute acts as well as the local orchestral concerts, but I did note that it hosted Equus, which is quite a brave play. I have kept the Marina on my radar since.

I knew it was cheap – currently £5.50 full price – to see a film, and that it is close to bus and rail stations, a few minutes walk along the main shopping street. But I did wonder on a winter Monday how I’d spend the time between the shops closing and the film starting.

I was encouraged that the cafe bar was open all day up to the start of the film, and at a quick reply from the theatre staff who said that (unlike Ipswich’s Film Theatre), they do start at the advertised time, gave the end time, and that I didn’t need to buy a ticket – unlike some sell out provincial film screenings – before the day.

I did buy get my ticket earlier on in the day. There was quite a wait while regulars bought up on the coming season. I thought that a ticket paid for in cash for that evening – and for a film – wouldn’t require registering and would be a quick transaction.

However, their new booking system requires a ‘few details’ to make the tickets come out. The few was actually pretty full – my name and address. It also has to be the one that’s registered to your card, if you pay with one. They said that they could delete it straight away, but I didn’t like having to give it over at all.

We are so often asked to prove who we are, making it easy to trace us and for that information to be abused. It’s also an imbalance, for the person asking for the information rarely has to identify themselves to us.

I said I found that procedure really offputting, and wondered how badly I wanted to see the film there.

I also said that I was fed up of being added to mailing lists for buying one ticket. Another Suffolk cinema emailed me for years and wouldn’t respond to my requests to stop – I had to block them. I’ve had to phone or write to many theatres, and have my successor at my old address take the trouble to forward on unwanted brochures, often from an area I no longer live in. Especially with the net, we can check venues if we want to see their offerings.

One reason that I didn’t buy in advance on the net was that I didn’t want to give out my details or have to create an account.

I dislike the general push in marketing to get more from the people that have already shown you some interest. You are likely to turn it away, not augment and continue it.

So that was a disappointing start to the day. I wondered what the experience of actually seeing a film would be like. It was likely to be my only one.

The website and the personal email I received encouraged if not stipulated prebooking any pretheatre food, suggesting it would be highly busy. But there was barely anyone other than staff – who hung around the automatic doors and made cold drafts – in the cafe. Staff were pleasant but the offerings and decor very simple. The box office and cafe are not in the actual theatre but a new building at right angles to it.

The building itself is one of the best in Lowestoft, although there is not much of note to choose from. It is the only interior of interest which I know of in the town. It’s confusingly hailed as former a Victorian skating rink, but I think that this is an Edwardian theatre on the site of the rink. Its side street, cul de sac positioning makes the illuminated facade less prominent than it might be. Inside is a true traditional old theatre – one of very few in East Anglia (is Bury’s Theatre Royal the only other?). It has two sets of galleries (circles) and a proscenium arch and an interesting ceiling. The film only used the ground floor, the stalls.

But there are no pictures of the interior on the brochure or website.

I entered the theatre for the first time through a side door from the cafe, which meant the experience of those many fronted outside doors which begins an often magical visit was prevented.

Having moved the box office, it meant that there was an empty counter to greet you, and that is a mistake. There is something very vital about front of house being just that.

The only staff in the theatre were security guards. Although they were friendly, their presence again gave an undesirable feel. Security guards expect trouble. They are checking that you’ve paid, not there to serve. They are not exactly welcoming. Again, for a theatre – especially a film night – I was surprised. I don’t think I’ve seen security in a cinema except a London west end premiere, and again, it was disappointing.

They had the adverts running as we entered, so that the official start time meant we were straight into the trailers.

As you’d expect for a traditional theatre, the seats are the old tip up kind. It’s unusual to see a film in those now as comfort has been deemed necessary for custom, although we used to manage and still do when we see live events. But having walked far that day, it was not the seats I needed.

After the film, although still a couple of hours before pub closing time, the audience seemed to disappear. The Marina was offering no more socialising for them, and the night felt cold in both ways, making one’s way along the well lit but deserted shopping area to an equally quiet and slippery station.

You can read about the rest of my day out here





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Still here…

Just haven’t been to any new cinemas for a while.

You can look at this in the meantime – my novel about the power of cinema


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Halesworth’s The Cut – Update

Big disappointment that I’ve learned as a “non funded” arts centre, it operates by charging hire to the performers who use it. Who probably are non funded themselves. It precluded the reading of my novel I offered – also on principle. Venues and artists need to share the risk, not have one doing all of it, especially not the lone artist. See my thoughts on publishing on my other blog,

Cinema with Elspeth

When I picked up a glossy little arts centre brochure in a Suffolk library, I felt sure it was London encroaching on us again. But no, Halesworth has an Ipswich postcode. So why hadn’t I heard of it?

Halesworth is a small market town in the north east corner of Suffolk, and is pretty much a one street affair, with little that you’d visit for. Except for the place in the brochure.

It must have almost taken the size of vision of creating Snape’s concert hall to take a disused maltings in a remote rural corner and make it into a centre for the arts. The Cut seems well used and loved – and I’m glad. I love it and at last, I got to use it – and see a film here.

Not being local meant that doing more than a day course or visiting the cafe was pretty difficult, but I added…

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Bristol Whiteladies Picturehouse, Clifton 2

Read my new novel all about a trip to a special cinema, just like this one:

I’ve just been to Whiteladies Rd for the first time in several years. I’d wondered what was happening: the Whiteladies Picturehouse campaign I’d been following from afar had gone silent. What would I find?

Answer – a 4 month old Everyman. And what do I feel about that?


Why is there nothing online? Why is the Whiteladies Picturehouse campaign site dead, and why are there no viewable social media or blogs? Why does the local newspaper skip over the jump between the £10,000 raised by the community for this independent group, and the opening of this London based chain?

I didn’t like the head of the group that owned the site – and who let it languish so long – publically picking on the leader of the WLPH group because he’d opposed their plans. Where is his voice? Where are those of any dissenters – and there were several at the last planning meeting?

So I am uncomfortable and suspicious already.

My other dislikes are, as predicted:

The subdivision has been left in, so only Screen 1 is exciting and the ceiling is too close to the floor as the bottom half of the cinema is made into two small auditoria. See my thoughts on that – showcasing this cinema here.

The prices are high. £13 is London price although many people find the usual £10 for an adult at peak times a lot to pay.

And for what?

The fear of the sofa and drinks culture has been realised.

It’s annoying to have service whislt watching – it disturbs others.

If it’s so much like home, as Everyman says, why go out?

It’s all sofas for 2 – making odd numbers odd. And I don’t pay to watch another’s foreplay – nor conduct my own.

It makes the film secondary, like that awful Drifters song “who cares what picture you see…” – it’s about fondling with your lover.

This model – ie Everyman – discards the live arts that were supposed to be part of the plan, and would make more sense of keeping the auditorium big. Even then, there was meant to be two, but the space for the WLPH group’s cinema has been turned into flats.

Again, money making (and through passive income) first…

And it shows just what films are already on in the city, and in walking distance, unlike the support of local and lesser known talent intended by WLPH group

Better than a gym? Yes. But not what was wanted and needed here.

I’m glad I didn’t go to anything and gave my arts money to other venues.

See my original thoughts below – and how many of my points stand!

Also note that I’ve 4 other Bristol venues on here – put Bristol into the search box to see them.

Cinema with Elspeth

A special cinema closed in 2001 and has stood empty ever since. Two plans are being considered and a local committee hears those of the Whiteladies Picturehouse group on Weds 18th June.

Whiteladies speaks out

Here are my thoughts:

The Everyman group has mixed support among cinema fans and would make Clifton a satellite of London, when Bristol is proud of its independence. The planners often speak of Everyman as “professional” cinema operators, implying that they are more in a position to run this cinema than others, perhaps than the Whiteladies community group. Doing it already in a chain does not make them more capable or more suitable for this Bristol cinema – you’ll get this programmed out of London like the Picturehouse group which has many detractors and disappointed would-be loyal customers. You’ll make this chain have a heavy sway over cinema, when many of us would see big companies broken up and support given to local…

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Cinema City, Norwich

Cinema City outside

Despite living in different places and travelling, this remains the cinema I have been to far more than any other. It is one of Britain’s most special cinemas, and my relationship with it is an important one, beyond just cinema.

Norwich is a favourite city and this cinema is emblematic of all I love about it. It’s so special, it features in something else I’ve had an equally long relationship with, that is just born – like Cinema City’s refurb, that’s taken a little longer than originally planned.

I’ve known Cinema City before and after the subdivision and the Picturehouse takeover – I first went in Nov 1996. Appropriately or perhaps prophetically, for what I will explain later, that first film was Jane Eyre – the Gainsbourg/Zefferelli version.

Perhaps I should reverse and say why this cinema is special. It’s in two buildings – a medieval hall (which is the café bar) called Suckling Hall and a 1920s lecture hall (the auditorium). It became one of the regional film theatres in the late 1960s, one of the first outside London in Britain. It had a council run slightly faded feel c2000, but we its loyal patrons liked it. You had a free article on the film given with your reasonably priced ticket. You could be a volunteer usher, having flexibility and a free pair of tickets.

The bar was what made Cinema city really special. It had a relaxed, bohemian atmosphere with changing artwork on the walls, a courtyard overlooked by the floor to ceiling bay window.

In 2003, there were clearly issues between the cinema and the cafe, a former co-op called Take 5, and they were in danger of going out of business due to the major rebuilding that Take 5 thought unnecessary. I wasn’t local but supported the campaign anyway. The cinema is special because of the café and the building which houses it; it is less so alone. But I was intrigued to know who else might fill the timbers of Sucking Hall.

Take 5 moved opposite the cathedral gate to Tombland, continuing its success by actually changing little other than address, and it remains a Norwich institution, in another medieval building.

Cinema City’s single auditorium became 3, and lost its gallery. I have to say I miss that room, and realise it had more character than I thought.

Like anything one is close to and that matters, Cinema City and I have had fluctuations in our relationship, but there have been many kindnesses, especially recently, so it remains one of the few cinemas I’ve actually been a member of.

I wrote an article for Fine City magazine in 2010 about the building, as I’d not seen one before – the Suckling House part, that is. I discovered much of today’s ‘medieval’ appearance is from the 1920s works, despite it having an open timbered roof, a bay window and vaulted chambers which are now the dining rooms. It’s a cinema which knows that its own and its city’s heritage is precious to it and has often promoted that.

The big link with me (other than the emotional tie and part of my life it’s been for nearly 20 years) is that Cinema City is in my just published novel: it’s where the story within the story takes place. I take you to the cinema with my characters in real time to watch my subverted version of Jane Eyre, called Eyres and Graces – A Twist on the Tale at Thornfield. In both the first novel and its sequel, you spend at least one evening in Stewart Hall, plus a couple of trips to the bar. The story is set pre update, when it was a single screen cinema – might that pose a challenge when it comes out as a film?


Norwich has always been well blessed with cinemas. In its golden age, there were almost 30, and by 2000, there were that many screens, which it has sustained. The Odeon/ABC group sneakily closed both their cinemas – in Anglia Square and Prince of Wales road – secretly and suddenly in Oct 2000 to avoid protest, removing the last of the old style purpose built cinemas from Norwich. One carried on as the flagship of the Hollywood group; the other became a nightclub which seems to have retained little of the interior of this 1911 picture palace, the last in a street of at least 3 others.

Norwich former ABC

The former ABC on Prince of Wales Road

Pre my time, there was the Noverre in the Georgian Assembly House; during my time, two multiplexes popped up as the others closed, but it isn’t true to say that they caused the demise of the older cinemas. They both changed companies quite quickly, and also have pretty empty auditoria at times, ie most of the ones that I’m there.

So Norwich is quite special that in a city of about 200,000, there are 4 cinemas all in the centre, all in walking distance, which run the gamut from the old style family chain at Anglia Square, to two multiplexes less than 20 years old, to a rather special arts cinema that’s been here in some form for over 40 years and which is based in a building of pre 1500. And there are film festivals and clubs, such as a long running regular in St Giles’ church, and winter seasons at Frank’s bar. Many far bigger cities can’t keep up with that and it’s set a precedent to compare against – often favourable to Norwich.


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Edinburgh Filmhouse

Edinburgh Filmhouse

Filmhouse has been a place of significant dates for me. My first night in Scotland was spent here on my birthday, which was the day of devolution. A few years later, it was where I spent my first night as a citizen of Caledonia. It was where I attended my first film festival. It was also where I saw my last film as denizen, and the last film I’ve seen to date in Edinburgh.

There are other more personal occasions. Some of what a cinema means to me is too personal to write here.

That’s why cinemas are so important to me, and why the act of film going features so prominently in my just published novel. It’s not only the films and their effect on you, but the reminder – as benchmark as well as mnemonic – of what was happening in my life. It’s a place where relationships are charted, a beginning, turning and end point. Seeing a film here was the last I saw of a friend: she walked out – whether it was the film or us, we never found out.

At the time, I felt quickly disillusioned with Filmhouse – now I rather miss it.

I have never seen a bad film here. By that, I don’t meant that I enjoyed everything or approved of everything but that everything that Filmhouse shows is appropriate to a film house: it shows the fare it’s publicly funded to, ie arty things which you don’t see in the ‘plexes. And that’s more than I can say of many arts cinemas.

No blockbusters, plenty of foreign language, quirky, independents, sprinkled with docs, classics and shorts. It also hosts the 80 year old Edinburgh Film Guild. It does interesting add ons – such as showing Trumbo alongside the films he penned secretly when blacklisted.

Edinburgh is the joint best city I’ve lived in for cinema. It has three artsy ones, and three mainstream ones, all in walking distance of the middle. (It has three more multiplexes – one in Leith, and two on either wings of the outskirts). That gives 79 screens. Yes I counted.

The Cineworld at Fountainbridge – once the land of Sean Connery’s milkrounds – supports the city’s large film festival (now in June) and shows some less usual films all year – I saw indie Primer here. There’s little to say about the Vue at Omni(ous) centre at the head of Leith Walk; the old style Odeon on Lothian Rd has lost its 30s features but recently gained a pizza restaurant in its foyer. You can also watch films on a bed on a pull down screen in a pub.

The other two cinemas – the Cameo and Dominion – will get their own slot.

Edinburgh Filmhouse

Edinburgh’s the only city I’ve lived in with two multiscreen arts cinemas – I think it may be the only one, not counting London. And in Edinburgh, they are in the same road (not by address) – and with another semi indie cinema about a mile further along. So 10 arts screens, 3 cinemas, serious festival, and a not bad for a multiplex – and the most screens in one city in Britain – yes I’ve a chart.

Filmhouse is one of the oldest arts cinemas, hailing from the 1940s when it and the festival were established. Thirty years later, it left Randolph Crescent for its current home, in a former chapel, now part of a cluster of well recognised arts venues.

Filmhouse often feels like the unofficial national film theatre for Scotland, and perhaps with the exception of Glasgow’s Film Theatre and its new sister in Aberdeen, it’s a claim which is unrivalled.

It has a shop with interesting DVDs you often don’t see in HMV, and an atmosphere of the serious film buff.

Some years ago, Timeout said that the staff are slightly po faced. In the cafe maybe – but I recall the very kind and attentive man at the box office who remembered about a film I’d asked about months earlier. I wasn’t even in his queue and he called over and told me that the film was now here!

I love that Cameo and Filmhouse have some kind of programming relationship, in that, despite being independent of each other, they don’t overlap. Hence Edinburgh’s central screens offer a wide choice. Filmhouse has a “maybe you missed” strand which lets you catch up with new releases a couple of months later, which is useful.

Its main auditorium is the old chapel. You ascend to what would’ve been the gallery, where I expected to be handed a Grace hymnbook, but instead, staff give you a synopsis of the film. This is always a sign of a quality independent. It’s quite a large, high, pillared room but there’s little leg space which means that those who arrive late but want to push past to the best seats make others stand.

I recall some of the worst behaviour by patrons here of all my cinema going.

This screen is used for the new releases. And I’m glad to say, these are all the thoughtful end of mainstream, or the more popular end of arts – no Star Wars or Ab Fab here. The BFG is where it belongs – in the kiddie strand, which wittily used to be called “Wean’s World” (‘wean’ is pronounced ‘Wayne’).

But the second and third screens – used for the various themes and festivals which make Filmhouse’s programming rich and special – are too small. I was always sorry to see a film here. I truly don’t remember anything epic being put on here, but the experience felt quite different and disappointing. It’s whilst living in Edinburgh and being a regular here that I formulated my single screen theory.

The bar is the place where things go a little wrong. It’s the space that some churches have carved out for themselves as their cafe under the gallery, behind the foyer. But it’s not big enough for the amount of people who want to use it, and something’s not right about the décor. No I’m not wanting a fad-of-the-second style lounge, but this isn’t quite old fashioned in a a good way, and nor is it arty, like the cinema itself. They’ve an interesting menu, supporting the full range of vores – herbi, carni, non gluten, etc. Prices can be little high.

Sadly, the ticket prices have zoomed up. I felt quite smug that the two arts cinemas kept – I presumed – each other’s prices down. Now they’re both a tenner and I’m a bit sorry that 3D is mentioned – what would Filmhouse show in 3D? Caves of Forgotten Dreams and Pina those are the only arts 3D films I know of. I’d be sorry to think that blockbusters had snuck in.

They have – the BFG is showing in the evenings! And for a fortnight!

Oh Filmhouse, you were my last bastion of hope that a FILMHOUSE was not movie theatre. Cinema for grownups. Even your kiddie films had angst – such as March of the Penguins, which seemed to be the main diet of broadsheet readers’ bairns.

I am sorry that the monthly brochure’s format, which has been the same for at least 10 years, has just shrunk. I liked that they had space to explore a film and describe it properly – I often liked to see what Filmhouse had to say, even if I knew I couldn’t attend there. Now the column on each film has become a short paragraph. In the introduction, they now try to suggest what to see… something’s going wrong here. Quick skim marketing – that’s not the Filmhouse I love!

My new novel – literally just published – is available from here

This is my second most visited cinema

Shortly, I’ll be back with the first – which is part of the novel directly




Filed under cinema