Cinema Crawl: Prince Charles Cinema – Soho

Image: Robert Dimov

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

One of the most popular and iconic independent cinemas in the UK, the Prince Charles is an utterly unique London institution. Beloved by many, it has an abundance of lovable features. The cinema itself, as a venue, is probably the least appealing of all the Prince Charles’ charms. Comprised of two screens, its large downstairs theatre has an odd feel to it. Vast and unbanked, with seating a far cry from the plush armchair-style approach of many modern chains, it could perhaps best be described as shabby chic. The seats actually slope ‘the wrong way’ somewhat, with a high screen that audiences look up to. It sounds like a recipe for neck ache, but the odd approach is surprisingly comfortable. A much smaller upstairs screen makes similarly efficient use of what is, in central London, very limited and sought after space. Comfy leather seats, steeply banked and close to the screen, this auditorium is a direct contrast to the other, yet still feels unlike most cinemas you would visit.

That is what is so enjoyable about visiting the Prince Charles. Even if it may look less swish than some other London options, it feels warm, loving, and properly independent. There are quite a few ‘independent chains’ out there, which I love, but there is something nice about visiting a cinema that feels as if it is one of a kind. There’s no swanky seating area here, but there is a little bar in a lobby adorned with posters and a whiteboard for people to suggest what films they would like screened in the future. For better or worse, the Prince Charles is the Prince Charles, and it is a very welcoming filmgoing experience.

The Films

This is the reason you go to the Prince Charles. A repertory cinema, it does show new releases, but is more intently focussed on screening classics and forgotten gems of years gone by. It is hard to sum up what type of film you will see at the Prince Charles, because there’s nothing they don’t show. Films will sometimes be shown as part of a nationwide re-release or a week-long engagement, whilst others may just have one or two showings. Usually, for the films that only get a brief appearance, they are a part of a wider season. This could be anything from a director retrospective to a celebration of sci-fi through the ages. If they can get the rights to it, then the chances are the Prince Charles will screen your favourite film at some point. This means that going there offers a distinct, and hugely exciting, filmgoing experience. There’s nothing quite like seeing your most beloved cinematic treasures played out on a big screen in front of an audience.

The Prince Charles very much understands and encourages the communal aspect of cinema-going, which is why it is somewhere that seems as though it may be immune to the streaming revolution. People don’t go there just to see a film, they go there for the love of going to the cinema, and the big screen experience. The programme at the Prince Charles encompasses many special events that maximise this audience-participation element of a film. It is famed for Sing-a-Long screenings of the likes of The Sound of Music and The Greatest Showman, and they have even now introduced some Solve-a-Long murder-mystery showings for whodunnit enthusiasts. Alongside these more active events, the Prince Charles is best known for its marathons. Some of them might look arduous in length, but these all-nighter screenings are tailor-made for hardcore fans. Want to watch all 20-odd hours of the Harry Potter films back to back, with blankets, drinks and snacks? Want to go back to Middle-Earth from 9pm-9am for all three Lord of the Rings extended editions? The Prince Charles is the place for such joyous madness.

The Price

Along with the unique selection of films, some brilliant bargains help to make the Prince Charles so loved. The pricing for a regular film screening never goes above £13.50, which is below many other West End venues, and there are much cheaper tickets to be had elsewhere. Ticket costs get a little complicated at the Prince Charles, because of the variety of screenings they put on. New releases and re-releases, or any week-long engagements, will cost you £10 for a weekday matinee. At peak times this rises to £13.50 for the new releases, and £12.50 for the older films. Any one or two-off repertory screenings will set you back a tenner midweek and £12.50 at the weekends, with the £13.50 price being reached again for special 70mm presentations. A steeper £17 is required for the sing-a-long showings, but you get more for your money with them. Any marathons, double, or triple bills are priced individually, so you’ll need to check the website for them.

Those costs are pretty reasonable, if not outstandingly cheap. However, if you get your hands on a Prince Charles membership then the most you will pay for a normal film is £11, and the matinees get as low as £6. Every ticket you buy at the Prince Charles will have £2.50-£4 off the price if you are a member, and there are even special £1 member screenings fairly regularly. The cinema also have a discount arranged at some nearby restaurants, and Forbidden Planet, for their members. Most importantly, however, is how ludicrously cheap the membership is. For a simple money-off style membership like this you’re usually looking at somewhere between £20 and £40 a year, but at the Prince Charles the discounts come for just £10. Even better, this is one of the few cinemas in the UK to offer a lifetime membership. £60 is a fair bit of money, but for cheaper films for the rest of your life, it’s a snip. It makes for a great gift for the film-lover too.

At this time independent cinemas need all the help they can get. So if you can, become a member at the Prince Charles or anywhere else. Here, you can be their friend for life, and you’ll get a unique cinematic experience in return.

Andrew Young