Cinema Crawl: The Castle – Hackney

Image: @thecastlecinema – Instagram

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

Of all the cinemas profiled in this Cinema Crawl series, North East London’s The Castle is simultaneously one of the oldest and one of the most recent additions to the cinema landscape. It first opened its doors as a single-screen cinema in 1913 and operated for over four decades until being turned into a bingo hall in 1958. It would not be until 2016, after a Kickstarter campaign and hours of devotion from film-lovers Dee Swift and Asher Charman, that The Castle, proscenium arch and original plasterwork still in tact, would be a picture palace once more.

Today, a second screen has been added, the seating is plush and armchair-style, and there is a wonderful bar to boot. Adorned with bottles, artwork and elegant bar lamps it is a key part of what makes The Castle so appealing; choose between a leather sofa or classic bar stool to enjoy a drink before your film. There is also food on offer in the form of pizzas from Venerdi, and an old-fashioned popcorn machine to give your visit a classic pictures feel. Both the bar and the screen can be hired out at The Castle, so you can make best use of a space that is at once up-to-date and enjoyably traditional.

The Films

In its selection of screenings, The Castle fulfils the criteria for a good local cinema. That’s to say, most people can see most of the films they want to. If you’re a Hackney resident and fancy seeing the new Star Wars it’ll be on here, and on the non-blockbuster weeks you can see the majority of awards-garlanded and independent films. Some arthouse and lesser-known releases may escape the schedules, but that’s true of almost everywhere. The cinema also plays host to a variety of curated seasons and events, such as an upcoming screening of documentary Notes on Rave in Dublin, accompanied by both a director Q&A and a DJ set. 

The Price

Monday is cheap day when it comes to The Castle. Day and night tickets are just £6. For an inexpensive cinema trip outside of that, you’re better off sticking to the daytime, with matinée prices never rising above £10, and only £8 during the week. For the prime-time evening slots from Friday-Sunday you will be looking at paying £14.50 for a regular film. For a top-level ticket in London today, this is far from outrageous but could equally not be classed as cheap. So visit another time during the week and your ticket price looks a lot more appealing.

The cost of The Castle looks even more favourable when you take their impressive membership options into account. For all the above prices you can knock off around 20% if you are a member. Like many independent cinemas, membership is a key source of funding for The Castle and luckily they offer multiple membership options, covering both low-commitment and cheap, and one for The Castle regulars. All memberships here offer the ticket discount along with 10% off food and drink in that swanky bar, no booking fees, priority booking and other one-off benefits. The difference between memberships is marked by how many free tickets you get with it. 

The Classic membership is similar to most other cinemas’ basic offers and gives you two free tickets with the other benefits for £29 a year. Although The Castle do not do concession tickets, they do offer a membership for half the price – the same cost as one peak-time ticket – with one free ticket and all the other benefits, to students, seniors, NHS staff, and those on low incomes.

For a more lavish option then go for the Premier membership, which offers one free ticket every month for £120 a year. Compared to other cinemas who offer a largely or entirely free ticket-based membership scheme, this is much less daunting and requires minimal commitment. If used on an evening or weekend, your free tickets alone make you the money back. That means that for the membership to be worth it you need to see one film a month. At some other cinemas you may have to go once a week to make their equivalent offers good value. So if you’re looking for a regular-viewing membership but are not a film-a-week devotee, then this looks like a good and relatively uncommon option. It is even better value if visiting as a pair, with a double Premier membership at just £175 a year between you.

With a good selection of films and the odd festival screening finding a home at The Castle, plus its luxurious bar, reasonable prices, and choice of membership options, there is every reason to visit this community-funded venue. There is a good story behind The Castle, and one which makes it a true independent cinema. Something which is well worth supporting.

Andrew Young