I’ve read enough reviews to know that these days the best places are tucked away. So I stood, ringing a buzzer, down an alley in a small industrial area of Loughborough Junction. The only evidence of life was an illuminated sign above my head. It said Whirled Cinema.
The Whirled Cinema auditorium is set under a railway arch. The large screen sits at one end and looks out onto six cosy rows. The interior décor is raw brickwork with posters of recent screenings dotted about the place. There are also a few intimate tables to the left of the screen, for couples.
Whirled Cinema is indicative of South London’s own brand of style – modest in aspiration, but not too try-hard. Trains occasionally passed overhead and I felt like I was about to watch a film outside. The comfy padded benches were evocative of the front seat of a 1950s Chevy and it felt like I was at an American drive-in.
Whirled Cinema is certainly no ordinary cinema. The owners encourage a break with the tradition of leaving the cinema straight after the film. They have created a casual film club environment and cinema goers are encouraged to stay post-film and drink at the bar, which is open late and stocked with good ale, lager and cider (there is also a cocktail menu). The bar remains open throughout the screening.
Whirled Cinema came about through a joint venture between Rob Lindsay and two owners of the adjoined Whirled Arts Studios. Rob comes across as a laid-back film-lover and spoke to me as he served drinks from behind the bar.
His cinema operates on a membership basis, with 650 annual members. People pay a one-off fee to gain access for a whole year – Rob wants to ensure that they do not have to turn people away, This means that there is a waiting list to get full membership.
The good news is that for the same price as a standard cinema ticket elsewhere you can turn up on the evening and they will most likely accommodate you on a weekly membership. It costs £10 and entitles you and a guest to entry for a whole week.
Many of the current members are now familiar with one another, but there is no pretence and it does not feel exclusive. It’s designed for film lovers and is not a gimmicky night out.
The focus is on independent world and arthouse cinema, the sort of films that do not get sustained exposure in bigger cinemas. Recent titles include Haneke’s Amour and absurdist Yorgos Lanthimos’ new release, Alps.
Screenings are on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. Saturday nights are usually reserved for private hire (at an extremely reasonable fee starting at £50 an hour). Rob tells me that he intends to extend onto the balcony to create a kitchen so he can serve food. Until then, he will happily ring next door to Firezza, who will have a pizza delivered right to you.
Fortunately for South London film lovers, Rob has plans to expand. He found the space in Loughborough Junction three years ago and it has worked so well that he is certain to open up another site in South London soon – he is just looking for the right place.