Save our Independent Cinemas! This week: the Prince Charles

Location: 7 Leicester Place, London WC2
Screens: 2
Capacity: 285 (Screen 1) / 104 (Screen 2)
Tickets: £5.50-£10 (discounts for members)
Visit the Prince Charles here!

The Prince Charles advertises itself as the only independent cinema in central London. Lying just 40 metres from Leicester Square and its unholy cluster of mega-multiplexes, it is defiant in its refusal to show any but the most interesting films – whether from the charts, the vaults or the cult DVD collections of its amiably odd staff. It also screens regular sing-alongs, themed film seasons and – joy! – double features. In fact, it was a double feature which drew Best For Film inexorably to the PCC – the prospect of seeing Chunk and Indy with barely a pause for more M&Ms was too much to resist. They’ll be rejoining the story later, fear not. First, though, a look back at the illustrious past of the PCC…

From porno palace to retro retreat

Just two years short of its half-century, the Prince Charles has seen action as a live theatre as well as a pornographic cinema (it’s notable for screening sticky epic Caligula as well as giving Emmanuelle its longest UK run). However, since 1991 it has existed as a repertory theatre, offering an extraordinary variety of films without any subsidies or grants from public or private bodies. Somehow, its tickets stay competitive – only the very newest films cost more than about £8, and a modest £10 membership fee gets you a whole year of discounts at the box office and bar. Better yet, if you can bring yourself to shell out £50 then you’ll be a member for life (note: only do this if you definitely have more than four years to live, or you’ll be out of pocket. And dead). It boasts a boutique upstairs screenette as well as its main downstairs auditorium, which boasts the rather pleasant Kill Bill bar with its wideish selection of drinks and snacks. Tarantino is a huge PCC fan, hence the name, and in a rather odd game of one-upmanship you can also find the Kevin Smith cubicle in the gents’ toilets – he insisted, apparently. God bless Silent Bob.

The physical experience of visiting the PCC is an absolute treat. The canopy above the entrance rarely displays messages relevant to the films on show, preferring to go for niche film references or obscure jokes (as above, below and generally throughout the article). The staff are efficient if not particularly bubbly, but you’re much better off with a film fan who knows their job than a gormless Cineworld zombie who’s been trained to groan “Can I help you?” instead of “Braiiiiins!”. In any event, you probably won’t notice because from the moment you go in there is so much to look at – posters illustrating the PCC’s long history of screening immeasurably cool films are framed on every flat surface, and the décor is charmingly dated without feeling shabby. The auditoria themselves are beautiful, with huge red seats in generously spaced rows and a particularly pleasing high ceiling in the downstairs cinema; you can very much tell that the PCC was once a theatre, which is wonderful and makes a change from the revolting carpeted walls and contrived seating in many purpose-built cinemas.

As mentioned above, Best For Film‘s last visit to the Prince Charles was to see one of its famous double bills. These can be improbable bedfellows juxtaposed for a laugh, specifically created double features (the PCC was one of the only cinemas in the UK to show Grindhouse as its makers intended, complete with fake trailers) or, on this occasion, The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. You can’t argue with a combination like that, and there’s perhaps no theatre as well-suited to the inevitable catcalling and audience participation of a cult screening as the cavernous downstairs cinema at the Prince Charles. Shamefully, Best For Film had never seen The Goonies before, which made the experience more surreal – it’s a film with more than the regular quota of being utterly crackers, even before you introduce a 3D experience through having 300 people shout themselves hoarse when the mutant chap swings down a rope. Very odd. Indiana Jones was similarly crackers; of course Best For Film shouts advice (“DUCK! DUCK, YOU FLOPPY-HATTED TWAZZOCK!”) to Indy when watching at home, but sitting in the middle of an actual screening is like being lifted in a warm, slightly halitosis-y cloud of exuberance as an entire auditorium advises Harrison Ford to MIND THAT F*CKING ROCK. It’s a pleasure, it really is.

Happily, you don’t even need to be a niche movie buff to enjoy the delights of the Prince Charles. It regularly screens chart films, although they’re certainly not a priority, and every now and again there’s a genuinely epic lineup which rewards the viewer with eternal glory. Memorably, the PCC recently screened all eleven Star Trek films back to back over three days, and it’s soon to offer a truly spectacular marathon of all 121 episodes of Lost. Best For Film has never understood why people would watch more than one episode of Lost, but these characters obviously exist so it’s probably best to put on events which keep them contained.

The Prince Charles Cinema has something for everyone – whether you’re after Top 10 hits, camp confections, timeless classics or just a cheap night out, its varied programme can always deliver. Plus, it’s screening the UK première of Big Tits Zombie (3D), a film which we confidently predict will redefine the entire visual arts spectrum. Free entry if you dress like a massively busty member of the undead, apparently. See you there!

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