Formerly known as Cinema 3, the Gulbenkian is not easy to access, but it’s the only chance you’ll get to see an artier film in Canterbury, whose other offering is a 2 screen Odeon. Screen 1 of the 1930s cinema (which has been through various chain owners in the last 20 years) has a lovely ceiling and is atmospheric if it’s packed in this large auditorium. But with only one, mainstream, theatre – the newly blue-ified, glass-fied Marlowe (which was also a 1930s cinema) – it’s trek to the University on the hill or miss out on arts.
It is a trek, even from the right end of town. And it is a hill, a steep one. From St Stephen’s Road, you go through a kind of village and church of that name, and then, you’re up a lonely wooded road, busy to cross. There is a cycle/walking lane but off road can feel lonely too. The other way, from St Dunstan’s and Whitstable Rd, has houses from the end of University drive, and feels more peopled.
I should pause and say Canterbury has 3 seats of higher learning, but this is the original university, known in 1960s style as “University of Kent at Canterbury” or UKC, though it confusingly has branches around Kent – and the continent.
Buses are frequent in term time, but this wasn’t, and they shut down as early as 6pm, or possibly with a single last one at 10pmish, and a gap inbetween. The arts centre runs all year and surely there are people on campus too in the holidays? Public transport can’t help the box office.
But getting onto the campus doesn’t mean that finding the arts centre is easy, and nor is it near either entrance. The Gulbenkian was made with a tag line like “On campus, for everyone”. But if you’re not staff or a student, you’ll have little idea of the geography of this 1960s mini city, and the obvious route through is for cars and doesn’t take you to the front entrance of the Gulbenkian, which also isn’t prominent on maps – even on the Gulbenkian’s own website.
The uni’s two main through roads can feel lonely in places, although you can see the iconic cathedral view from near the darkened bus stop. Timetables require you know internal locations, rather than having a central stop.
Painting the concretey Gulbenkian yellow only chirps it up a little. Inside, it is very white, cerise and goo-green, trying to be trendy but sort of teetering on dated. The café bar is busy, but the food not somewhere you’d come for a destination. It was more snack food, like a waffle, or sandwich, or baked potato.
The film was due to start at the annoyingly early time of 7pm – perhaps affected by the buses – but at 653, we were told by unsure staff that it was not yet 7 and so he couldn’t let us in to the auditorium. He seemed quite flummoxed at being presented with tickets. We were told at the desk that the film ended c830 and that there were only trailers before the film. The film predictably started late, had full adverts and trailers (despite being independent and about a month behind theatrical release). Thus if we’d planned on an elusive bus, we might have missed it as we came out 20 mins later than advertised.
Inside is comfy but styleless, and the screen is quite small.
The cafe’s not open wildly late, and it closes earlier in holiday time (til about 10/9.30 respectively).
The shrunken brochure (which feels very austerity driven) has little information about the films and isn’t that arty in its programming, but sadly nor are lots of others.
The live arts has a separate one and another auditorium where the seats angle onto the stage.
If the kind of fare shown here is important to you, it might have a bearing on whether you chose Canterbury as a home.
UPDATE – Shortly after my writing this, Canterbury gained a Curzon (of the London arts chain), near Westgate, within the old city walls. This has now made Canterbury rather exciting for cinema goers. I hope to visit and review it here.