Cinema Crawl: Genesis – Whitechapel

Image: Ewan Munro

Film is not just about what we see on the screen, but where we see it. With the rise of streaming and the ease of accessing thousands of films without leaving the house or speaking to a soul, it is worth remembering that films are often best experienced not just on the big screen, but with an audience. Going to the cinema, however, is becoming something of a luxury nowadays. With ticket and snack prices on the rise, going to the pictures is sometimes dauntingly expensive. You want to make sure, then, that when you do go to a cinema it is worth your time and money. Our Cinema Crawl series aims to highlight the delights and defects of the most interesting, best value, and most spectacular picture palaces out there.

The Place

In April 2019 Time Out London did a survey of Londoners to determine the best cinema in the capital – Genesis was the victor. Visiting Whitechapel’s local flicks it quickly becomes clear why it is so beloved. The lobby/box office area that greets you as you enter doubles as the Grindhouse Café, serving hot and cold food and drink in an attractive environment featuring exposed brick and comfortable seating. Head upstairs and you find not only more space to sit back and read on the mezzanine but also Bar Paragon, a dark and very hip-looking bar serving cocktails and much more. Pizza slices and Pieminster pies can also be bought up here, from The Kitchen. Throughout the building the walls are adorned with classic film posters and the odd eye-catching mural.

The screens themselves come in all shapes and sizes. There are three screens with normal seating, including one huge 566-seater auditorium for those proper event films. The other two screens are more modest at 154-seats and sadly without banked seating. What is most exciting about Genesis’ screens however is the inclusion of two smaller ‘Studio’ cinemas with sofa and armchair seating, footstools and an in-screen bar. If you’re happy to fork out for it, these screens let you go to the movies with added luxury.

The Price

Depending on when you go and whether you opt for the added comfort of the Studio, a one ticket price varies between £5.50 and £15. The lowest price can be paid for the three normal screens by anyone Monday-Wednesday, and on any day for a Senior or Child ticket. The standard adult price goes up to £9 on a Thursday and £10.50 over the weekend period, but is capped at £8 for students. The ‘Studio’ seats have no concession offers, but are as low as £9.50 Monday-Wednesday, which is cheaper than a standard seat ticket at some other London cinemas.

As with almost all cinemas in this series, getting value for money at Genesis is complicated by the offer of a membership scheme. Rather than the common yearly payment model that most cinemas adopt, however, the Genesis membership acts more like a subscription and gives you unlimited access to films in the three standard screens for £20 a month. For the occasional visitor, this is likely not worth it, but for a local regular filmgoer it could save you a lot of money. It would allow you to see a film every Saturday night for the equivalent of £5 each time which is extremely good value for London or elsewhere. The membership includes a few other benefits such as 10% off anything bought at Genesis and no online booking fees. There is also the option to upgrade to a £30 per month ‘Gold’ membership which gives the same access plus half price on all ’Studio’ tickets. Knock £5 a month off all these prices for concessions.

The Films

Genesis covers most bases for the average filmgoer with its programming, showing all the big blockbusters in addition to slightly less mainstream titles from Hollywood’s indie darlings. There is less room for the more obscure titles than you would get at a dedicated arthouse cinema, but Genesis does hold some special events too, and the programmers manage to squeeze a few specially curated seasons in, such as their ongoing Black History (Every) Month selection. Along with other East London cinemas, Genesis is also one of the hosts of the Fringe! Film Fest showcasing queer film. There is also the option to book out the screens and bar for something of your choosing.

It is as if the people running Genesis have looked at all their rivals and chosen the best bits from all of them: the café and bar cover the area that the Picturehouse chain has down to a tee; the membership scheme offers something similar to the Curzon model and acts as a big-screen alternative to a streaming subscription; there’s the option to watch in luxury akin to the Everyman approach; or you can go for the simple screens and get a ticket cheaper than most of the capital.

Andrew Young