Walthamstow has no shortage of cinemas, or should I say no shortage of cinema buildings. Grand old picture palaces can be found on many streets in E17. Sadly though, non of these survivors from days past are still used as intended. They have all long since been re-purposed, or worse still forgotten, left to decay and rot. Our best hope of reviving one of these sleeping giants takes the shape of the former Granada/EMD cinema on Hoe Street. Walthamstow has fought long and hard to save and restore this lovely old building, and although it has now acquired new owners, its future is still largely unknown. As well as acquiring a new owner, the Granada also has a new neighbour, the Empire cinema. We have all watched as the building that houses the Empire has grown ever skyward. Clawed its way out of the big muddy hole that was once home to the concrete shopping arcade.We have waited for a permanent cinema to return to Waltham Forest, and now the wait is over. The Empire has finally kicked off its dust sheets and thrown open its doors to the good people of Walthamstow.
A few weeks ago I received an email from Empire cinemas asking if I would like to attend the launch event on the 19th November. If I’m being honest, I’d probably go to the opening of a fag packet if was happening in E17, I’m also incredibly nosey so replied instantly with a “yes please”. Before long my tickets had arrived complete with instructions for the evening. Doors open at 6pm with a opening ceremony at 6:45, this would be followed with a screening of a still to be announced film in screen number 9. So after work on Wednesday, we walked up to the top of the high street to see what Empire cinemas had in store for us.
In a way the cinema looks a little bit out of place, almost like a chunk of Westfield has broken off and drifted to Walthamstow. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it only looks out of place because we have a brand spanking new cinema at the top of the high street, and I haven’t yet adjusted to the fact that it’s there. The street outside was bathed in pink light from the big empire sign above the front door, search lights had even been set up in from of the building. I suddenly started to feel a little bit scruffy as I was wearing my jeans, so I tucked my shirt in to make an effort. our names were checked off the guest list and we glided down the red carpet with style and elegance, well actually I tripped over trying to take photo, but I think I got away with it. Once through the front doors, a lift and two sets of stairs lead down in to the foyer, home to the bar, pop corn machines and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream counter.
The foyer is pretty compact, and it was crammed with guests last night. Presumably though there have been complex calculations carried out to ensure that there is enough room to accommodate the cinema going public. The bar/concession area runs along the back wall with the entrance to the screens on the left hand side. Walking under the arch with the word screens above in bright white light bulbs, you are met with a long corridor that leads to the 9 cinema screens. We were given the chance to have a snoop around them before the opening speeches. The nine screen are made up of various sizes, in total they can accommodate 1’200 people. The seating is made up of standard red seats and black VIP seats, I tried both out and I have to say they are pretty comfortable. The staff were friendly as we had a nosy around, in particular the young lady who was in charge of screen 6. She did a great sales pitch to get us in to her screen before we looked at screen five, she could teach the people on the apprentice a thing or two.
After our wander around the cinema screens, we returned to the foyer for the opening speeches. We started with the CEO of Empire cinemas who gave us some facts and figures about the cinema. Like a naughty school boy I was at the back of the room so didn’t catch everything he was saying, but by all accounts the technology at the Empire is pretty impressive. During the speeches were were reminded how long it has taken for this project to complete. From the the arcade being demolished and the site being turned in to a public space, to ground being broken for the build in June 2013, this has been a project of epic proportions. We were also reminded that before Empire got involved, two other cinema chains pulled out of the project so it very nearly didn’t happen. Following the speeches we were invited to take our seats for the screening of the new Hunger Games film. The Empire had been given permission to screen it the day before its release. We took our seats in screen nine, picked up a complimentary bar of Walthamstow branded chocolate and sat back to enjoy the film.
The Empire isn’t the only cinema in Walthamstow of course. We also have the amazing Stow Film Lounge who have been feeding our cinematic appetite with their regular screenings at Orford House. I would hope that the two can rub along together as they both offer something different. The Empire is mass market cinema, as one audience leaves another is ushered in. The film lounge is more of an evening out, relaxing with friends with a beer and a favourite film. What the Empire is of course, is the first permanent cinema Walthamstow and Waltham Forest has had in a number of years. Yes it’s a chain, and yes its probably a clone of all the other Empire cinemas, but it’s ours. A modern cinema complex right on our door step. I for one am excited that this project happened and Empire have made a home in E17.