The new Star Wars movie is a very big affair, but it loses none of its, ah, force when viewed in a small cinema. Screen 2 at the Castle Cinema on Brooksby’s Walk in Homerton is very small indeed, with a capacity of less than 30. Yet when I and four members of my family watched the film there earlier today – occupying the entire front row – we felt every bit as immersed in the vast, alternative Skywalker world as we would have in a cavernous multiplex.
It was just our latest lovely night out at this fantastic little London movie house, whose story illustrates what can be achieved by imagination, goodwill and a desire to make cultural consumption intimate and characterful with a genuine local feel.
A cinema was first opened at the site in 1913, when the entire building formed the 619-seat Castle Electric Cinema. But it closed in 1958 and was converted into a bingo hall, then a warehouse and then a snooker hall. After that, the grocery store Eat 17 moved in, working in partnership with Spar.
The upper floor of the premises remained unused, however, until Asher Chapman and Danielle Swift saw that the original cinema’s century-old internal decor features were still intact. They already ran unorthodox movie events such as Pillow Cinema, but the Castle was to become their first permanent base.
A 2016 Kickstarter campaign raised £57,000, the space was renovated and re-opened and now contains, as well as Screen 2, a main theatre that holds around 80 (in glorious seating comfort) and a very pleasant bar, which seemed to be doing good business when we were there.
Little Women was the day’s other attraction. That movie and Star Wars dominate the Castle’s holiday period schedule, but from 3 January World War II satire Jojo Rabbit will be screening and later next month you can see The Maltese Falcon in 16 mm format. The Castle is also available for private hire for an array of different functions. They’ll even let you shoot scenes for a movie there.
Our city needs more enterprises like the Castle Cinema. I’m sure there are already others out there I’ve yet to heard about. If so, please let me know about them (firstname.lastname@example.org).
OnLondon.co.uk is dedicated to providing fair and well-informed coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. It depends on donations from readers and would like to pay its freelance contributors better. Can you spare £5 (or more) a month? Follow this link if you would like to help. Thank you.