Reel Borehamwood, a Reel Independent Cinema?

Discovering Borehamwood

It was thus that on Sunday night I found myself searching for independent cinemas in and around North London. I was in luck. When you boycott the big corporate screens in favour of charming local venues you can risk compromising on film choice. More often than not there will be one film showing, and it will be about a vineyard owner who becomes a die hard watercolour painter. Not in the case of Borehamwood’s resident independent screen. HERE I could watch Inception and feel smug about my selfless anti-establishment choice all at the same time.

Now, I should have had my suspicions about Borehamwood from the moment I noted that the cinema was located in the Metropolis Centre. It doesn’t exactly promise quaint and individual, endearingly musty or nostalgically-stuck-in-the-50s. Still, I went. It was the only independent cinema within 50 miles of the M25 that was both showing Inception and still selling tickets. Now, I’ve always found the idea of a downtown independent movie theatre to be romantic. I imagine shy girls in little lace-up pumps and ankle socks watching Casablanca with nice, sensible boys. But there’s downtown, and there’s Borehamwood. Or rather, there’s my Kodak-moment imagination, and there’s downtown.

We turned the corner into the Metropolis Centre and the giant, glaring Gala Bingo sign bored into our respective retinae. The Reel Cinemas sign on the opposite door confirmed that we were unfortunately in the right place. It wasn’t looking very independent cinema-esque. Not to worry, I thought, the venue is probably a bit like that durian fruit you find in southeast Asia… offensive to the point of vomiting on the outside, but really quite pleasant on the inside.

Inside the Venue…

We approached the entrance, passing a young woman who is evidently dedicated to the Borehamwood independent cinema cause. Excluding perhaps the odd venture to catch one of the cheap-ticketed blockbusters inside, the young martyr appeared not to have moved from the low wall facing the foyer since Reel Cinemas Ltd became a brand in 2005. Her heroic daily diet of hot-dogs and over-sized, over-priced fizzy drinks was plain to see, and bloody inspiring.

Upon entering, the first thing that struck me was the vast and erratic display of film posters covering the walls, the floor, even the sullen employees. Battered cardboard display sites for Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After cluttered the cramped floor space and lined the walls. The staring faces of Woody and Donkey loomed over small children who,  already feeling duped by the word ‘independent’, could only shake their heads at the words “poster’s for sale” flapping about on the A4 sheet that is blu-tacked onto each one.

An Independent Cinema… Corporation?

Borehamwood cinema is one of many that are owned by Reel Cinemas Ltd. Far from being a one-of-a-kind local gem, you can find these meccas of “Reel Entertainment” in a whole host of shit (and for all anyone knows, fictional) towns across the country. Reel Hull, Reel Widnes, Reel Swadlincote- these are just some of the constituents in the empire that is the Reel independent cinema chain. Now, call me a great cabbage of human ignorance, but surely there is some paradox in the establishment of an ‘independent cinema chain’?

Perhaps this explains the dystopia that is the Reel cinema experience. Reel doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It is simultaneously a boot fair of anything remotely sell-able (an aspect that might be quite quirky if it actually was a real independent cinema) and a corporate big-dog selling dodgy cola for the price of a healthy liver. It seems to have identified its target market as the man who happily blows his month’s salary at the refreshment counter, but sees nothing wrong with purchasing one of their £1 gift vouchers for his mother’s 50th birthday.

Aside from the gloriously unhealthy looking Borehamwood-regular territorially manning the entrance, it seems that this Reel branch is yet to establish a loyal community of frequenters. A little look at the lonely Facebook page told me that the cinema’s online society has 15 members- one of them a dog, and one a Jewish film festival. I check the wall for a scroll of comments from those who feel an affinity with the place. Could it be that what the fans lack in quantity they make up for with spirit and love?

I proposed to my sweetheart in the foyer of Reel Borehamwood, in the same way that my father proposed to my mother 30 years ago..”

Sadly, no, that wasn’t on the wall. The modern cinema complex didn’t exist 30 years ago. Instead of sentimental exchanges between lifelong Borehamwood-goers there is just one lone comment from a teenage girl asking if anyone could help her get in touch with the popcorn boy. It almost sounds very sweet, but in all probability it was because he’d changed his number and gone under witness protection.

Before You Torch Borehamwood/Borehamwood Torches Me…

Instead of giving Borehamwood one last kick while it’s down, I should say a few things in its defence. Though tickets can be as much as £8.70 for a Friday night showing of a 3D film, you can catch a film for £3.70 if you go on a Monday or Wednesday. Come September, Borehamwood is even going to have a go at putting on regular “Cultural Evenings” when they will begin showing Art House, international and foreign language films. And until then, you can always go along to one of the banging themed nights they claim to have…

But above all of that, if you ARE going to go, go to read the D.I.Y film synopses pinned up on the notice board. When heading out to see a new release, why read an official plot summary online when you can enjoy Borehamwood-Alan’s take on what on earth Inception is all about?

Independent cinemas are fantastic, and well worth supporting. But unless you are looking for Phoenix Nights style entertainment, make sure you find a real one.

Been left reeling after a faux-independent cinema experience? Perhaps you want to defend the Reel chain? Either way, let us know what you think!

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