The West End gets a new film venue this week as the Regent Street Cinema reopens its doors. Closed for decades, the cinema holds a special place in film history as one of the first locations to show sophisticated moving images to the public.
On 20 February 1896 Londoners flocked to what was then known as the Marlborough Hall, part of the Polytechnic on Regent Street. The Lumière brothers of France were on tour, showing off their 'cinematographe' device that could project moving images onto a screen. For a shilling, you could catch such animated wonders as "a crowd of people rushing pell-mell down a street", and "a party playing cards and drinking champagne". One early review marvelled at the realism:
It was amusing to see the faithfulness of detail marking these living photos. For instance, ladies in coming to a step would instantly, as the originals did, hitch up their dresses and on gaining the top let it fall again. All the variety of movement, quickness of action, and in some cases indecision to be witnessed in a crowd of this kind were wonderfully reproduced to the nicest degree of shading.
This groundbreaking cinema survived until 1980, when it was turned into a student lecture hall as part of the University of Westminster. Now, thanks to a Heritage Lottery Grant and a £2m donation from The Quintin Hogg Trust, it has been restored as a state-of-the-art cinema. And very handsome it looks, too, in shades of lime, blue and salmon. The cinema will specialise in the best repertory screenings, along with talks and workshops.
The Regent Street Cinema, 309 Regent Street, opens on 6 May with a screening of Lambert and Stamp. The full programme for May and June can be browsed online. Images courtesy of the cinema.