The birthplace of cinema in the UK has a new life after over 100 years – The Regent Street Cinema at the University of Westminster
Cinematic moving images arrived in the UK on 20th February 1896 when the theatre of the Royal Polytechnical Institute in Regent Street London held the first demonstration of the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe machine, following success in Paris. The theatre, built in 1848, was purpose-built for “optical exhibitions”, with early shows including demonstrations of the latest scientific and technological innovations, lantern slides as stage background for dramatic and musical performances, and now it was the turn of the cinema.
In the 1920’s the theatre was converted into a permanent cinema and in January 1951 achieved fame as the first cinema to show an X-certificate film in the UK – La Vie Commence Demain. With the advent of TV and the trend towards larger multiplexes, the cinema became a venue for musicals before closing in 1980 to become a lecture theatre for the Polytechnic, now the University of Westminster. Happily, after a three year funding campaign, the cinema has been restored and re-opened and is unique in that films are shown in their original format and on the original projectors, with all the flickering atmosphere that is created – including the cinema organ which rises up from the stage, while the bar and foyer has been designed with a balance of historic and contemporary style.
A great project to bring a historic building back into use, reinforce the academic work of the university and enable today’s cinema fans to see their favourite films in their original form.