The Quirkiest Cinemas across the UK
We’re slowly ticking the UK’s independent picture houses off our list, so here are some of our favourites so far.
It’s become something of a tradition for us to hunt down the weirdest and wackiest local cinemas in whatever town or village we find ourselves in. We’re slowly ticking the UK’s independent picture houses off our list, so here are some of our favourites so far.
The Rex, Berkhamsted
No cinema will make you feel more like you’re stepping back in time to a more glamorous era than The Rex. Its upmarket 1938 art deco style is chic and fabulous, and their programme is packed full of a blend of big blockbusters and lesser-known, old and foreign films. It’s been incredibly well curated and considered, so you can easily go blindly and be satisfied by whatever’s playing. You’ll be doing it in supreme comfort too, with a choice of taking up one of their enormous sofas or seated at tables right by the bar, so you can have a gin and tonic brought to you while you enjoy the delights of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
The owner, James Hannaway, is Berkhamsted’s biggest celeb. He comes onstage and introduces every single film, giving a little précis of what to expect and what he personally thought of it. The whole thing is a charming and unique experience.
Cost: A little pricey but you’ll feel like a million bucks. Buy them well in advance though, because they sell like hotcakes. £8-£13.
Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds
It’s nowhere near as high-end as the Rex, but this is a firm favourite of ours and is actually the cinema made us fall in love with the art form that has stripped our wallets of cash ever since. Opened in 1914, the Hyde Park Picture House its rough and ready, but chockerblock full of charm. It’s the only gas-lit cinema in the UK, and the lovely little gas lights along either side of the aisles make for a really atmospheric viewing experience.
The building is full of history — it was closed in the 1950s before reopening as a bingo hall and later as a performance venue. Nowadays, it hosts films and panel talks, including a great series run in conjunction with the university exploring philosophy in film. Arthouse films and new releases are on the bill each night. Winner.
Cost: Well, we went all the damn time as students so if us broke bitches can afford it, so can you. £6.30-£7.80
The Cube, Bristol
Something a little different again. Blink and you’d miss this place. In fact, we did. Several times. Tucked away in a suburban area of Bristol, The Cube describes itself as an ‘arts venue, adult crêche and progressive social wellbeing enterprise’. And yes, to be honest it is as pretentious as it sounds, but stay with us. It is a truly independent venue — an uncommon thing nowadays. They don’t sell Coke, they make their own. They don’t sell Nespresso, they brew their own coffee. The ticket prices are outrageously cheap, and asylum seekers can attend for free any day of the week.
It’s by no means a warm and cosy cinema — although blankets are available — but it’s a great spot for catching the films that won’t make it to the bigger cinemas. They also have evenings of art and improvised music. Well worth a visit. If you can find it.
Cost: Bargain bucket. £5 adult, £4 concession. Monday is cheap night so you get £1 off. That said, you do have to pay £1 for lifetime membership, which is a bit stupid but hey ho.
A cinema designed by Paul Smith. If that doesn’t get every middle-aged man excited, we don’t know what will. Located in the groovy Hockley area of Nottingham, the Broadway began life as a church in 1839 and was later converted in a big way. It’s now super modern and sleek, but with prices that won’t break the budget. We like. They also host Q&As with industry professionals and focus a lot of attention on getting young people into film. Their half-price deals for under-25s are a lifesaver. If you’re under 25 that is.
Pop into the nearby Sexy Mamma Love Spaghetti or its sister restaurant Botti di Mamma for a delicious plateful of pasta before the film so you can really enjoy it in a hefty food coma.
Cost: Killer if you’re under 25 (£4.50) but still a good deal for £9 at full price. They’ve also got lots of member schemes that make it cheaper and are worth looking into.
Odyssey Cinema, St Albans
We were reticent to include this one, because it’s owned by the same chap who owns the Rex and is a similar kettle of fish. But it’s too good to ignore. Built in 1908, it was the very first cinema to be built in Hertfordshire and has a fascinating history. Highlights include a major fire in the 1920s, becoming a boring run-of-the-mill Odeon cinema in 1945 and then closing in the 1990s, only to be reopened in 2014.
If you’re ever in the area, just pop in. The bar area in the foyer is an event in itself, and we have been known to nearly miss a film because we’re enjoying the ambience and steady supply of craft beers a little too much.
Cost: Same as The Rex really, but you get free tea and coffee while you wait. £9.50-£13.50. Matinees are cheaper — £5-£8.50.
Ilkley Cinema, Ilkley
When you’re up visiting the North of England and are getting a bit chilly on those moors, this cinema is the perfect respite. We went to see The Snowman here, thinking we were going to be lulled to sleep by the dulcet tones of Aled Jones in a Christmas classic, but instead we got something slightly different — the lesser-known Scandi noir with a not insignificant quantity of killings. That said, it was brilliant. So perhaps, do as we did and bypass the programme and pick whatever’s on.
It’s a tiny cinema (formerly a nightclub), with jazzy, wide comfortable sofas and good sound quality. It’s modern, recently renovated and snug as can be. There’s a very sweet little coffee shop to buy essentials before the film, and a lovely balcony overlooking the moors for when you need to get the image of Scandinavian killers out of your head.
Cost: A bit steep, but you’re in the middle of nowhere so competition is not fierce. £11.30-£12.90.