As an avid cinema-goer and having now studied in London for over three years, I know a thing or two about the best places to go to the pictures in the capital. London is one of the best cities to be a film student, partly because there are so many cinemas. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourites, keeping the student budget in mind:
Barbican Cinemas, Beech Street, EC2
In addition to its theatres, exhibitions spaces and countless cafés, the Barbican Centre also has three cinemas, mostly showing new releases. If you’re 14 – 25, then you can get £5 cinema tickets from Monday to Thursday with a Young Barbican account, which you can sign up for online for free.
British Film Institute, Southbank, SE1
The BFI is the cinephile’s Mecca, showing 2,000 films a year across four screens and if you’re under 25, then it’s probably the most affordable cinema in London – bring ID and get a £3 ticket, available 45 minutes before the film starts. I can’t overstate how great this place is, on any given day there’ll be something worth seeing: classic Hollywood movies, the obscurest of obscure World cinema, experimental film, old TV series even. Upcoming seasons include retrospectives of Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino. They also have two restaurants, a shop, library and Mediatheque where you can access an archive of film and TV for free.
Ciné Lumiere, Institut Français du Royaume-Uni, 17 Queensberry Place, SW7
The Ciné Lumiere, located in the Institut Français near the Natural History Museum, specialises in French, European and World cinema, hosting Q&As with filmmakers and actors and showing a classic French film every Sunday. It’s like a corner of West London that is forever France; the box office staff greet you with a ‘bonjour’ and the signage is all in French, c’est charmant. The building itself is very nice and the seating is spacious with ample legroom. Student tickets are £6 for matinee screenings.
Close-Up Film Centre, Brick Lane, E1
Having recently moved into a new premises just off Brick Lane, Close-Up houses a café, a DVD library with 19,000 titles and a small cinema which seats 40 and shows films in ‘glorious 35mm’ (as the chalkboard outside declares). Tickets are £10, which sounds pricey but it’s worth it for the experience; every time I’ve been there’s been an exciting atmosphere and a sense of occasion. As well as films by the likes of Cassavetes, Tarkovsky and Fassbinder, Close-Up specialises in little-known works which are yet to be digitised.
Genesis, Mile End Road, E1
Genesis is the go-to cinema for every QM student – just five minutes down the road and tickets are only £4.50 on Mondays and Wednesdays. It has five screens, one of which is the luxury Studio5, as well as a bar and pie shop, and the films are a mix of blockbusters and more niche fare, including NTLive broadcasts. It’s something of a carrot-cake cinema, recently refurbished with distressed wallpaper and exposed lightbulbs and serving that most hipster of pastries, the cronut. Genesis also hosts monthly Cinema Italia screenings where you can see brand new Italian films which are yet to get a UK release (as well as some classics) and generally there’s a Q&A afterwards.
The Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, SW1
Secluded from the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square, the ICA is easily missed from the outside, but it’s worth looking out for. On its two screens you can see arthouse new releases, art films as well as retrospectives (previous retrospectives include Chantal Akerman, Luis Buñuel and Paul Thomas Anderson). There’s a bookshop where you can stock up on Derrida, Sartre and all your critical theory needs. Student tickets are £8, and a cinema ticket will also grant you ‘day membership’ to the art gallery.
Odeon Panton Street, SW1
While this list is mostly independent, arthouse cinemas, I’ve included this crusty little Odeon because it primarily shows films which were released a few months back. Located on a backstreet just off Leicester Sq., if you missed something when it was released but you still want to see it on the big screen, then it’s worth checking the Panton St listings. It could do with a lick of paint, but it has a certain ramshackle charm; one gets the sense that the place is aware that it can never compare with its fancy Leicester Sq. cousins, so it’s given up making an effort. Student tickets are £6.00