James Luxford is enchanted by an historic picture house

This week, dear reader, I have been getting ‘back in the game’, screenings wise. The last couple of weeks I have been taking it a little bit easy – the London Film Festival left me a little bit tapped out, so I spent the first week essentially ‘convalescing’ (code for a little too much PlayStation and not enough working). The second was taken up with a lot of article writing and a bit of radio work, but still relatively quiet in my home office. The last two weeks have, however, given me an opportunity to fall in love... namely, with a cinema.

I managed to get a couple of tickets to a local preview screening of Thor: The Dark World, taking my wife along with me, who is a huge Thor fan (or should that be a huge Chris Hemsworth fan). The screening was at Oxford’s Magdalen Street Odeon, a cinema that, up to this point, I had not had the opportunity to visit. I’ve been very critical of their George Street cousin (I always seem to have trouble with the staff or conditions of their screens with every visit), so I have tended to visit the Vue near Kassam Stadium or the Phoenix when watching new releases as a ‘civilian’, so to speak. However, screen one at Magdalen Street (I still have trouble pronouncing it ‘Maudlin’ – sorry, I’m an uncouth Londoner) is absolutely gorgeous, with a wonderful, classic decor that is clearly in keeping with the history of the venue and adds to the occasion of going to see a movie.

I have absolutely no problem with these new-build multiplexes: stadium seating, surround-sound, what’s not to love? However, I die a little inside when lovely old cinemas are homogenised and papered over in order to meet some kind of corporate aesthetic.

I understand it’s cheaper to make every screen a soundproofed black box, I understand it probably it improves the sound or sight lines or whatever, but this is the cinema I grew up with. The cinemas I used to go to as a child were converted theatres, with decorative foyers, lounges, and winding staircases that lead up to wonderful, cavernous screens that felt like you were really seeing something epic, even if you weren’t. Most of those screens have been torn down or split in half so that cinemas can offer more choice to their customers. It’s a business decision I understand, but I can’t help but feel a little bit of the magic of a place goes every time a screen that has been around since the ‘20s is knocked down, renovated or updated. And now most of my cinema viewing will be done in the West End as I resume of my regime of press screenings. However, I’m always giving recent releases a second viewing (if only so that Mrs Luxford can have a chance to watch it herself), so the Odeon Magdalen Street will certainly be joining my rotation of cinemas to revisit. Just don’t ask me to pronounce the street name.