Look beyond the multiplexes and you’ll find a city dedicated to cinematic adventure. From the Ealing comedies and Hitchcock classics, through the swingin’ sixties to the Notting Hill rom-coms of Bridget Jones and Four Weddings, London is a city wrapped up in celluloid. Its historic architecture, towering landmarks, and dark and dingy cobbled back streets have provided inspiration for directors, and unique backdrops to cinematic gems since the birth of the moving image itself. In a creative city like this, in an age where digital filmmaking is open to anyone, scratch the surface and you’ll find so much more than just the latest Hollywood blockbusters.
Exploring London’s cinemas
If you want to make the most of what the city’s silver screens have to offer, staying somewhere central like the HI Mayfair provides a great location from which to explore the city’s leading lights. Just east of Mayfair takes you to Leicester Square, London’s ‘Cinemaland’, home to the Empire, Odeon and Vue showcase cinemas. London’s own Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, you’ll find plaques bearing the handprints of the British and Tinseltown greats, as well as the latest star-studded red carpet premieres.
It’s not all blockbuster fare and extortionate ticket prices round Leicester Square though. Head for the cut-price movie haven that is the Prince Charles Cinema on Leicester Place for all-night movie marathons, delicious B-movie double bills, the cult Good Bad Movie Club, and classic movie seasons, with tickets from just £4.
Stroll south across Waterloo Bridge for evening views to rival Manhattan’s classic opening titles. On the Southbank you’ll find the country’s leading repertory cinema, the British Film Institute. Specialising in classic, independent and foreign-language films, it’s currently running a Genius of Hitchcock season through to October before it kicks off the London Film Festival. The BFI’s Benugo bar and restaurant is a great place to sip a cocktail, discuss the movies, and people watch while you dream up a movie of your own on the banks of the Thames. Head to the BFI on a Tuesday for their regular £5 cinema night, or get there at the weekend and have a browse at the weekly book fair just outside their front door.
Besides the flicks themselves, you’re invited to get behind the big screen and delve into cinematic history with a huge collection of books, documents and film and audio recordings at the BFI Library and Mediateque. Head north along the river to learn more about moviemaking at the London Film Museum. Loosely dedicated to family fare, the museum has another location at Covent Garden for those looking to learn more about the early days of cinema. Or if you’re heading south, The Cinema Museum on Dugard Way is a treasuretrove of memorabilia, artefacts and equipment, dedicated to the days of cinema before the multiplex.
From moving image history, to the latest in British cinema, the DocHouse at Riverside Studios shows cutting edge documentary filmmaking at its best. With screenings, educational programmes and regular Q&As with the leading lights of documentary filmmaking, check their site for news of the latest short film festivals and alternative cinematic happenings around the city.
If you’re looking for fresh ways to enjoy the flicks, London is buzzing with alternatives to the cineplex. Feeling nostalgic for cinema’s golden age? A tube ride to East Finchley will take you to the Phoenix Cinema, the oldest functioning cinema in the UK. While London’s tightly-packed streets might not have room for drive-ins, crafty cinema fans haven’t let that stop them taking the big screen outdoors. The Rooftop Film Club screens a mixture of cult and bona fide classics at the Roof Gardens in Kensington and the Queen of Hoxton in trendy Shoreditch throughout the summer.
For a truly unforgettable night out at the pictures, Secret Cinema offers you the chance to get up close and personal with some of your all-time favourites. Setting out to revolutionise the moviegoing experience, Secret Cinema is now one of the worst kept secrets in town. This hush-hush cinema group has garnered rave reviews for its spectacular screenings, bringing together huge ensemble casts of actors to transform secret locations into completely immersive living films. You won’t know what film you’re going to see, you won’t even know where you’re going to see it, you’ll just be told what to wear and where to meet.
Past spectacles include a warehouse transformed into a dystopian future for Blade Runner, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in an abandoned asylum, letting The Warriors out to play at London Fields, and border checkpoints, arrests and explosions in the Old Vic Tunnels for The Battle of Algiers. Run by Future Cinema, the filmic geniuses behind Future Shorts and Secret Screenings, sign up for clandestine news and clues, be prepared to dress up and join the fun, but remember, tell no one…
And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in London, consider the Crowne Plaza London Kensington hotel for a great value accommodation option.
Note: this post was brought to you in partnership with Crowne Plaza London Kensington.