The Regent Street Cinema is apart of history as it was the first place in the United Kingdom to show a moving footage or film. In February 1896, 54 random Londoners were whisked into a small building to watch a 40 second grainy and silent piece of footage brought to life by a hand-cranked projector. This place would set the foundation for the multi-million pound film industry that we all know and enjoy today.
Later on declaring that there was “no future in cinema,” The Lumiere Brothers were the men who shot this historic footage, the first of thousands to be shown in the grand London cinema. After 35 years of being closed to the public, the venue has been restored and is now reading to reopen its doors once more. With a £6m completion cost and 3 years of construction and restoration, the “birthplace of British cinema” has been completely reinstated and is in working order, reading for its reopening on Wednesday May 6th. Built in 1848 and housed within the Polytechnic University on Regent Street the venture to renovate this cinema has been a large project. The original 1936 John Compton organ, which was used to soundtrack silent films, has been brought back to life as has all the art deco features such as the building’s domed ceiling. During the restoration process, researchers from the University of Westminster have been doing a bit of digging on the venue’s long history.
Among their many discoveries, they uncovered that in the 1900s, the Regent Street Cinema was the first place that Alfred West, the photographer, brought his silent nautical films of navel ships which were some of the first narrative cinema and these films were also shown to Queen Victoria. The cinema also hosted popular travelogue films and could transport audiences to India, China, Palestine, and Africa without every having to leave the United Kingdom. Even though these films were silent, they featured animal noises which were recorded from the London Zoo and a narrator.
In World War II, the cinema housed and retrained disabled soldiers as well as broadcasted newsreels for the public. After the war, the cinema was the first to show an X-rated film in the United Kingdom and began to show more risqué foreign films. In 1951, it showed “Life Begins Tomorrow” featuring Jean-Paul Sartre, Le Corbusier, and Pablo Picasso. The film was given an X-rating, not for sexual content, but for its graphic violence and post-nuclear apocalypse portrayal. Unfortunately, financial issues caused the cinema to eventually close its doors in 1980. From that point on, the auditorium was used periodically as a university lecture hall.
Reopening the cinema was a tough decision, especially in an environment purely dominated by big multiplex corporations. In the past years, many United Kingdom arthouse cinemas have had to close their doors, yet the Regent Street Cinema is attempting to open their doors once more. The cinema’s director, ShiraMacleoad has said “Of course it is very daunting because unfortunately we all have to make money and that is very hard, and it is aunting for us because it is risky to do repertory cinema, so I have taken a really big risk, so we shall have to see. We just hope people will come…I need to embrace the location and the history because that’s what makes it very special, so the programme needs to reflect that.” The director has also spoke of wanting to have archived material shown at the cinema and more Lumiere Brothers films. Also for the cinema to be a big supporter of British films. The cinema will also be reaching out into the community and allowing students and professors at University of Westminster to show their independent films. In order to do this, a 16mm film and 325m film projector has been installed which will allow the showing of rarely seen footage. This will also allow for the newest 4k digital film technology to be used. The cinema will not offer a food and drinks menu to be enjoyed during your cinematic experience.
For more information on unique and historical cinema in London city, checkout cinema near Kensington and cinema near Buckingham Palace. Also, do not forget to stay at anyone of our luxury hotels such as The Marble Arch by Montcalm during your London stay.