Packing nearly 500 seats in the stalls and balcony, Hyde Park Picture House‘s stained-glass windows accompany the original gas lamps, making it the only gas-lit cinema in the country! The Grade II listed cinema has finally reopened, with the morale-boosting black and white films from WWII replaced with A24’s unnerving cinematic experiences. From the original Leeds Film Institute Society's use of it for their first public screenings, to armed forces and figures such as suffragette Leonora Cohen using it as a stage for recruitment propaganda, there's no lack of history in the baroque plasterwork.
It feels like the construction has been going on for over a century. This isn't exactly true but 1914 does mark the cinema's original opening. This embodies the cinema’s transcension through both epidemics and wars, embodying persistence, or stubbornness, as many of Hyde park’s features do. To entertain has been at the heart of its creation, as after Harry Child’s purchase of it to create a ‘Palatian hotel’, it soon became renowned as a rowdy alcoholic establishment. With partners such as the Packhorse, and Central Station Hotel, Child’s development of it into a private club meant it garnered much attention, positive and negative.
With the help of his Thomas Whinn and Sons, who also worked on Brudenell Social Club, the interconnected force of Leeds men worked together to transform it into a picture house on 2nd November 1914. This was likely caused by the emerging rise in appreciation for the art of film (they were in competition with the Headingley Picture House which opened in 1913), and a solution to the flammable nature of previous free-standing projections used for public film watching. Artefacts from the cinema’s battle with the influenza epidemic and old programs from 1917 are positioned next to the snack bar (which we didn't try, but I recommend a glass of Chardonnay). However, the blood-red velvet staircase reveals the real show.
With two entrances, one leading to the fully wheelchair accessible downstairs, and the other to the balcony, you open the doors into a cavern of decadence. My friend and I had bought balcony seats (£7.50 as a student) and really reaped the benefits. Our center view made our watch of ‘The Creator’ transformative as we couldn’t believe how empty the theatre was, essentially being treated to a private viewing.
This was a sci-fi film, as we swiftly discovered having not watched the trailer, and so we had our apprehensions. Well let me tell you, we walked out crying. Not as a cause of the picture house, we just weren't expecting a dystopian action film to be so heartfelt. Potentially a negative, although we found it rather funny, was walking out and finding ourselves opposite 24H Sainsbury's, pyjama bound and red-eyed, feeling very far removed from our luxurious escape. Suddenly faced with the rest of Hyde Park getting drunk at 11pm on a Friday night, we were transported back to reality. On walking out, the real sense of nostalgia hit as we talked about the utter determination of the little cinema. Maybe we didn't parade an elephant outside as a publicity stunt to keep it open as management did in 1959, but we were certainly distraught at the nearly 4 years without it, and are certainly grateful for it now. An exciting addition for Hyde Park inhabitants which we'd seriously recommend as relief for the next time you realise you've been to both RPP or Brudenell Social twice this week already.
Words: Emilie Kamasa, she/her