We live in the era of the Multiplex, when a trip to the West End might cost you upshot of twenty big ones for a ticket to the latest blockbuster and a bag of sweets. How refreshing then, that in this day and age, there are still those trying to do things a little differently.
Situated on Leicester Place, just off of Leicester Square, is the Prince Charles, one of London’s most-beloved cinemas. Since its grand opening in 1962, the Prince Charles has seen some changes. Originally used as a theatre – the remnants of which are still evident in its downstairs screen – the building later found use as a soft-core porn cinema, screening such lightweight fluff as Emmanuelle and Caligula. Now the Prince Charles operates as one of the only independent picture-houses in central London and has found its niche in screening second-runs of modern movies, numerous classics, and special events and seasons.
When The Hollywood News paid a visit to the cinema, we were fortunate enough to catch some time with its Creative Manager Robin Priestley. As part of a small team, Robin describes himself as a ‘jack of all trades’, overseeing everything from poster designs to selecting the films shown, all of which contribute to the Prince Charles’ unique positioning in the West End.
And one of the main things that sets the cinema apart for its brand-name counterparts is its interaction with the viewers.
‘We listen to our customers constantly,’ says Robin. ‘They let us know the things they like through Facebook and Twitter.’
This apparently helps to ensure that a diverse range of movie tastes are catered for. By combining recent features, arthouse movies, foreign film, and as many 80s cult classics as you could shake a Bruce Willis vest at, the Prince Charles appears to touch all bases. But they don’t take themselves too seriously, which is good to hear from the guys bringing you Sing-A-Long-A-Grease.
‘We’re never film snobs,’ Robin tells The Hollywood News. ‘We do show things like the upcoming Hitchcock season, but we’ll also show Jurassic Park at the same time.’
It seems that ‘retro-blockbusters’ such as Jurassic Park are a big deal for the Prince Charles. In fact their Monday Double-Bills and Feel Good Friday’s are packed with gems such as The Terminator, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Labyrinth.
‘There’s a big nostalgia thing here,’ says Robin. ‘80s action films do amazing business, we put on Die Hard or Predator and we pretty much know it’s going to sell out.’
And it doesn’t end with these cult classics; the Prince Charles has been involved with numerous festivals in the past – such as Korean and Italian film festivals – not to mention ongoing events such as their silent movie screenings (with live pianists or bands providing the soundtrack).
Despite this unique appeal, there is always the concern that the Prince Charles could face the same problems as other cinemas at present – as the boom in home cinema and torrent downloading draws customers away from the box-offices. But the Prince Charles has ways of combating that particular issue –
‘We’ve decided to aim toward more event based cinema,’ says Robin. ‘Even though you can now download a film before it’s even released, we’ve never really been a cinema that chases that first Friday night audience.’
Aside from the stellar range of movies to see, the Prince Charles provides other benefits to its customers, namely its membership offer. With cut-price tickets on movies (for as little as £1.50 during the afternoon) and discounts in other West End establishments such as Forbidden Planet, the cost of the membership is worth its weight for any film fan. And the Prince Charles currently boasts around 1000 lifetime members and 8000 annual members, a staggering figure for such a small business.
But it isn’t just the audiences that support of the Prince Charles – some of cinema’s top names have spoken out to endorse the cinema, such as Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith (who even has a toilet cubicle named after him). Robin also points out that Never Let Me Go director Mark Romanek made a special appearance recently on the big screen via Skype to hold a Q&A.
Overall, the Prince Charles is a refreshing change for us frequent moviegoers, offering an eclectic mix of new, cult, and arthouse movies. With regular events (including an upcoming comedy season which showcases a stand-up set and the featured comedian’s choice of movie), there’s plenty to entertain both the casual and dedicated film fan. So if you’re heading out to the movies this upcoming Valentine’s Day, take a second to consider if you’d rather the latest Adam Sandler abomination or a Pretty Woman/Dirty Dancing double-bill. I know where my twelve quid is better spent…