Independent Cinemas Unite! This week: Cinema City, Norwich

Location: Cinema City, St Andrew’s Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 4AD
Screens: 3
Capacity: 350
Ticket Prices: £7/£5.50 (Student), Orange Wednesdays available.
Visit Cinema City HERE!

So, you went to the cinema last night and today your friend asks you, ‘what was it like?’ You delve straight into the ins and outs of the film, you laughed, you cried, you knocked over your popcorn etc. Imagine if said friend then politely corrected you, ‘no, I meant what was the actual cinema like?’. You would probably look at them as if they were mad, because our cinemas have become so uniform and unremarkable that the experience of visiting them is seldom about the venue itself. There is nothing to say. We have all been to the Odeon, Cineworld and Vue, the only distinction between them being which huge name glares down from its industrial front, and emerged without the surroundings having even entered our consciousness. One might be forgiven for stumbling into B&Q and expecting there to be a showing of Toy Story 3 beginning in ten minutes!

But worry not my cinema-going friends, we at Best For Film are dedicating a series of features to help guide you towards your nearest independent cinema, or at least provide the inspiration for you to go and hunt one down for yourself. No more are the days of £5 per scoop Ben and Jerry’s and popcorn poured out of a giant polythene bag. No more are the days of VIP upgrade seats with only a larger cup-holder to justify your further spending. Your ‘Chunky Monkey’ will certainly taste sweeter when you haven’t paid £13 to sit down and eat it!

This week, the gem that is Cinema City in the heart of Norwich

I discovered Cinema City while living in the beautiful city of Norwich as a student and instantly fell in love with the place. The cinema is a stone’s throw from the vibrant Tombland area, which is littered with little one-off shops, bars and restaurants. Positioned between Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Playhouse, the building is steeped in history, a cozy cave of culture. The oldest parts of the building date from the 14th Century and the property was home to Robert Suckling, Mayor, Sheriff and Burgess in parliament in the 16th Century. The centre of the house was, as it remains today, the Great Hall, with its scissor brace and crown post roof. All those years ago, this is where apprentices would have lived with their masters and eaten meals. The building was as much for public display as for private living and the Sucking family hosted many an evening of music, dining and conversation there. How very pleasant! In the 18th Century, the building succumbed to substantial alterations and was converted into a six bay Georgian house, five of which still stand today. Finally in the 20th Century, ‘Suckling House’ was sold to the Colman sisters, who built ‘Stuart Hall’ on the waste ground beside the house. When the combined properties were opened by the Duke of York in 1925, he desired that ‘the place should be used for the advancement of education in its widest and most comprehensive sense’, a wish which continues to be honored by the exciting cinematic venue today.

Ok, history lesson over, now down to the good stuff!

Cinema City is also home to a fantastic bar and restaurant. These are housed in the vaulted rooms, formerly the buttery, and a smaller Georgian paneled room (Ok, I promise it’s over now). The place has such atmosphere with its stone walls, stained-glass windows and church candles. A Norwich-born chef has put together a truly scrummy menu using seasonal produce from local suppliers. It’s all so wholesome! A variety of British and international dishes are individually prepared so not a hint of that mass produced ‘chain’ food will pass your lips. For those who just want to grab a quick drink before or after their film, there is a medieval courtyard and a terrace where you can enjoy a sample from the huge selection of wine and ale on offer. There is even live musicians performing on most evenings from 9pm with free admission! Now you won’t find that at the Odeon.

So, what can you watch at Cinema City?

There are generally three or four different films on offer every night. While a couple of these will be the mainstream latest releases, the cinema also has a pick of some more niche, art house type films that you may not have ordinarily come across. My friend and I used to just turn up and see what was about to start. On our first visit, we ended up watching a film called Chèri, which neither of us had heard of. It starred Michelle Pfeiffer and was a surprisingly refreshing change to the usual big blockbusters that I would go to see. Cinema City also holds special live screenings of events such as the Edinburgh Festival and the Glyndebourne Opera Festival. This is an really innovative idea as you can share in the experience of these showcases, which can be difficult or expensive to get to. The venue also attracts guest speakers who hold ‘Q and A’ sessions for screenings. Recently, directors such as Nick Whitfield (Skeletons), Jez Lewis (Shed Your Tears and Walk Away), Miles Watts (Crime Fighters) and Mark Dodd (The Man Who Stopped the Desert) have travelled to Norwich to answer eager questions about the filmmaking process.

For mums wanting to entertain their tykes over the summer, Cinema City offers a weekly ‘Big Scream’ event for parents with babies under one year old. Low level lights are left on and nappy changing facilities are available, so no need to worry about causing a disturbance. There is also a ‘Kids club’ for 3-12 year olds every Saturday afternoon, where accompanying adults go free! And how about this for an original birthday idea – the venue can be hired out for private screenings of your favorite films or you can project your own personal films or slide shows onto the big screen. Thank god my parents didn’t discover that before my 21st! The facility is also available for corporate and educational events with full technical support available.

Have I persuaded you yet?

This award-winning venue is a rare find and I cannot implore you enough to give it a go! You will emerge feeling like you have experienced something which is unique and memorable. And next time you walk past the local Vue, you can smile with self-contentment in the knowledge of your superior viewing style. Hear hear!

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