London's first in-store cinema

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Later this month, Wimbledon will play host to the country’s first in-store cinema. Dave Calhoun was given an exclusive guided tour of a work in progress

When I visited a second-floor space above Wimbledon’s HMV store last week, it was still a building site. But on Friday October 23, it will open as London’s latest cinema and the first in a planned series of ‘in-store’ cinemas under the new brand of ‘hmvcurzon’ – a 50-50 partnership between Curzon Artificial Eye – the company that runs the existing Curzon cinemas – and HMV, which, like any business with a reliance on selling discs, is looking for new reasons to attract punters to its tills. The new cinema will sit less than 100 metres from the existing Odeon on Wimbledon’s The Broadway, so what will the hmvcurzon offer film-goers in this area of south London that they don’t already have?

Talking to Richard Napper, the chief operating officer of Curzon Artificial Eye, who shows me round the site, it’s obvious that the keepers of hmvcurzon are looking to attract a more sophisticated type of suburbanite – but not necessarily the sort prepared to pay the prices charged by their north London counterparts at the Everymans in Belsize Park and Hampstead. Prices will vary throughout the week: adult tickets on Friday and Saturday evenings will be £9 (compared to the Odeon’s £8.50) and cheaper on weekday afternoons, when, says Napper, ‘We’ll undercut the Odeon.’

The films will reflect the programmes of sister cinemas Curzon Soho and Renoir, but will also include more mainstream fare. So, the opening month will see films ranging from Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon’ and Lone Scherfig’s ‘An Education’ to Pixar’s ‘Up’ and Wes Anderson’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’.

‘We want it to be different to the Odeon,’ says Napper, who has more than three decades’ experience of film exhibition in London: in his time, he’s been both a projectionist and the managing director of the UK arm of Sony Pictures. ‘We want to play to the strengths of a smaller, more refined space than a multiplex,’ he says, pointing to French-style Quinette seats, upmarket food and drink and a fancy sound-system by Munro Acoustics.

What will this new cinema look like? On our visit, the structure was already taking shape. You reach the cinema by entering the front of the store, which will advertise the films on show, and by taking the stairs or lift to the second floor. Thankfully, you don’t have to wade through aisles of DVDs and Xbox games to get there. Once in the cinema, the public space is intimate, though there will be a bar selling food and drink and space for hanging out. Customers will be encouraged, in Ryanair fashion, to buy their tickets online and print them out beforehand – a service only offered at the moment in London by two Showcase cinemas – but there will, of course, be a box office, too.

The screens will be traditional in feel but modern in execution, with each named after their colour (red, blue and green) rather than a number. The largest will hold 103 people, which is roughly the size of the smaller screens at the Curzon Soho, and each is served solely by a digital projector. Here, 35mm is dead as the dodo. All that remains to be seen is how quickly shoppers stop seeing their local HMV as a record store and start seeing it as an alternative to their local Odeon, travelling to the West End or, whisper it, waiting for the DVD.

Author: Dave Calhoun



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