Last night, K and I went to watch Darkest Hour at The Odyssey cinema.
I love The Odyssey. When I was a child and then a teenager, and even into my early twenties, The Odyssey was an Odeon cinema and the only cinema in the local vicinity. It was where we always went when we wanted to see a film. It wasn’t a regular event as a family (E.T., Crocodile Dundee are ones I remember seeing with M&D and P) but when I was a bit older I used to go regularly with friends. It wasn’t a brilliant cinema in today’s standards: it had 3 screens in it’s heyday, a small pick and mix shop next door and (more appreciated as I got older) a pub just a few doors away. But it was accessible; the bus was reliable and it was a good place to meet friends.
Incomprehensibly to my children, we had to wait for the local paper to be published on a Thursday to see what films would be showing during the coming week and we either had to wing it and hope that they had tickets when we showed up, or in later years, if we had kind parents with a credit card we could book over the phone. The films didn’t change all that regularly so when a new release arrived it was very exciting. Equally, if we missed seeing something while it was showing, it was game over – wait until the video came into the local rental shop some excruciating months later. This would, without doubt, seem like torture to our youngsters now in the world they inhabit with instant entertainment at their fingertips: streaming services, downloads, multiplex cinemas with 10 plus screens, online booking, pre-booking, etc.
The Odeon shut down in 1995 when out-of-town complexes became the norm. I was sorry to see it go and there was a lot of opposition locally. But, going to the multiplex soon became the norm and now with 4 in a 15 mile radius to choose from we are not exactly short of options.
The Odeon reopened in 2014 under a new name, The Odyssey (in homage to local director Stanley Kubrick’s film A Space Odyssey) and it is beautiful. It has one screen – the original Main Screen of the old days – and has downstairs seating, with tables and chairs or sofa options, in addition to the normal, upstairs seating. You can buy a glass of wine, a gin and tonic, borrow a blanket or a cushion, the seats are generous and comfy and there is plenty of legroom. But, what makes it so special is the feeling it gives me when I walk into the auditorium: I feel 15 again and it evokes such strong memories of my childhood that it makes me very, very happy. There is no booming noise, no brighter than bright lights. There is a curtain across the screen, there is subtle, subdued lighting, art-deco finishes and the film is introduced by a real person who walks on and talks about upcoming films and the film you are about to see. They talk with passion about films and they clearly love working there. It’s fab.
We saw trailers for Darkest Hour when we went to see Murder on the Orient Express as a family late last year. K and I both said how good it looked and were astonished to find that it was Gary Oldman playing Churchill. I’m a big fan and it looked gripping, so it seemed a no-brainer to try and see it. Unfortunately, we didn’t get around to it, but I was chuffed when I saw it was being shown at The Odyssey. Just like in the old days, you have to either book in person, by phone or, a day later, online. I didn’t want to risk not getting seats so phoned on the day of general release and bagged two seats on the front row of the upstairs seating (an aisle seat for me, obviously). The front row has so much leg room, even I can stretch my legs out. Fab.
The film itself was very, very good. I deliberately hadn’t read much about it. I’m familiar with the facts of Churchill’s rise to power and knew it focused on the start of the second world war. The trailers we’d seen showed the epic “on the beaches” speech in Parliament so I knew it would have some standout moments. I knew Oldman had won the Best Actor BAFTA recently and there was no question it would be a stellar performance. He was phenomenal and so were the supporting cast. It was funny, emotional, clever and enlightening. It wasn’t epic but it was very good. I am glad I have seen it, but, in hindsight, I would have been equally happy if we had waited until it was available to stream at home. The problem with The Odyssey is that it is a little bit too comfortable: the temperature is just right, the seats are soft, you can stretch your legs. In addition to this, I had my woolly scarf keeping me nice and warm. Sadly, all of this meant that my eyes shut for a little bit too long on a couple of occasions. Only for a matter of seconds, I didn’t miss any of the film and I didn’t make any unfortunate snoring noises. But, it did make me wonder how much I was enjoying the film. I have this issue at home – I love Silent Witness and Shetland but they always seem to lull me into a sleepy state and I miss bits. It was on a par with that. Very good, but not enough to keep my eyes open the entire time.
So, full marks for The Odyssey; 8 out of 10 for the film itself. Not that I’m a critic. But the eyes don’t lie.