With a second lockdown underway, our writers pay tribute to their favourite independent cinemas in the capital. This time: Ella Kemp on Leicester Square's beloved, two-screen institution
The Prince Charles Cinema is where I go when I have a secret. It's where I went when nobody realised I hadn't seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s where I can go back to rewatch Magnolia for the fifth time without anyone catching on. It's the place where I can sit in silence when I don't like the David Byrne movie (no, not that one) as much as everyone else, because their cheers are drowning me out anyway.
I sit in the Prince Charles to make up for lost time, to double check a feeling, to rediscover what I thought I knew so well. It proves me wrong and it lifts me up. It’s a cinema unlike any other because nobody cares about who you are outside its doors – you can sob and gasp and shriek and this is normal, because everyone else is doing exactly the same.
There is a total lack of inhibition here. It's a place where I don’t have to hide how James Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner makes me feel whilst seeing his desperately lovelorn eyes so big and so wide for the very first time. I remember going to see Ernst Lubitsch’s wondrous 1940 classic in December, 2018. It was a time where one of my friends, an avid and far more rigorous cinephile than me, said he’d booked a ticket and offered to book one for me, too. I went along, begrudgingly: it was a weeknight, my head was spinning, but I thought it would be good, I suppose, for my friendship and my career to watch a movie from the 1940s simply because it was showing.
We took our seats in the screen upstairs – my first time at the Prince Charles, looking up at the low ceiling twinkling with tiny lights – and I was worried I’d fall asleep. But it was just impossible: if you’ve seen the film, a shopfront romance between Stewart and the luminous Margaret Sullavan, you’ll know it's guaranteed to leave your smile wide and your heart full. Seeing it at the Prince Charles made it feel even more special. As we got up to put our coats on and crossed eyes with every other filmgoer who had taken a punt and couldn’t believe their luck, all giddy and grinning, we felt drunk on the film’s glee – and lucky enough to be in the company of people who felt no need to hide it. That’s what the Prince Charles does: it lets you catch up and let go, and creates an environment so comfortable, so modest, and so welcoming that there’s just no reason to put on any other kind of show.
Movies glitter at the Prince Charles. People see things with brand new eyes and discover history in a place that feels like coming home. It’s monumental and important, but it’s also a humble place – even stubbornly uncool. I miss it. I can watch films at home, sure, but rewatching Titanic for the first time in 10 years on my laptop isn’t an event – it’s a school night. But watching Indiana Jones on a Sunday, then Quick Change on a Tuesday at the Prince Charles… these feel like memories from a family scrapbook. The film matters, but a place that makes you feel like you’re actually part of something as you watch them? That will always be worth so much more. Until we meet again, friend.