Hackney’s historic picture house gets a makeover

Castle Cinema

Castle Cinema - Credit: Archant

Castle Cinema officially reopened its doors last week for the first time in 60 years following a community crowdfunding campaign

Castle Cinema

Castle Cinema - Credit: Archant

The 1930s are making a comeback. Financial crashes and right-wing populism: not a nostalgic decade to most, but for picture palaces the thirties were a golden age of growing audiences and profits before the advent of television razed them to the ground.

Castle Cinema officially reopened its doors last week for the first time in 60 years following a community crowdfunding campaign, and its owners are keen to rekindle those palmy days.

“We wanted to capture the heyday of cinema in the thirties and the opulence and art-deco inspiration of those picture palaces,” says co-owner Asher Charman who launched the project a year ago with partner Danielle Swift.

The historic picture house opened in 1913 before it was converted into a bingo club in 1958, then a warehouse and a notoriously raucous snooker hall.

Castle Theatre cinema

Castle Theatre cinema - Credit: Archant

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For the past decade it stood derelict atop a convenience store on Brooksby’s Walk, until it was spotted by the couple, who previously plyed their trade in pop-up cinemas.

The curved ceiling has been retained, as have the original vents once used to clear the smoke-laden auditorium, while 80 burgundy armchairs offer a homely feel.

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The proscenium arch though is their “pride and joy” and it’s a look that seems to be going down well with the locals.

“I love the vibe,” says Clapton resident Sam Tucker. “You feel like you’re in a completely different place.”

Castle Cinema

Castle Cinema - Credit: Archant

Charman agrees: “We want to make going to the cinema an experience again. Those 1930s picture palaces did a much better job of that than the modern multiplexes.”

The couple are looking to tap into the area’s “sense of community”, following a rambunctious response to their Kickstarter appeal, launched on March 1 last year.

Their £45,000 target was smashed within a month and £57,000 was eventually raised thanks to 663 supporters, beginning what Charman describes as a labour of love to redevelop the building.

Plans are afoot to host community events in the bar, from gay speed-dating nights to spoon whittling workshops, while the wall space is already being used as a gallery for local artists.

Charman wants an inclusive experience. He emphasises their affordable membership scheme and diverse programming, which includes anything from Hollywood blockbusters to foreign language and local films.

The couple are also considering putting screenings to public votes, an idea already in action in London venues such as Somerset House.

For now they are sticking to the box office favourite. The official launch opened with La La Land and Moonlight is showing every evening this week.

With nearly sold out viewings, there’s an intimate feel about the venue, though occasionally the poignant moments are punctuated by noise overspill from in the bar.

But it can’t spoil the experience for the punters: Sam liked it so much he said he’s applying for a job behind the bar to supplement his work as an actor, so he might be moonlighting himself here soon.


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