Founded in 1914, the Hyde Park Picture House is soon to celebrate its 100th birthday, a rare feat for an independent cinema, and it’s not difficult to understand its endurance. Newly appointed Observer film critic Mark Kermode described it is his book The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex as “a beauty; a proper old-fashioned picture palace with a sweeping balcony, theatrical curtains, sensible ticket prices, and a projection booth the smells of celluloid and sweat – in a good way.” Aside from the smell, you might recognise this description from the image that graced the cover of last week’s LS Guide; the plush red seats, the Edwardian balcony, the gas lighting. In fact, The Hyde Park Picture House is the only remaining gas-lit cinema in the UK, a true relic from times past. Even the films shown cash in on nostalgia and historical appeal, with screenings of classic films running alongside the carefully hand-picked selection of new releases.
The cinema opened on 7th November 1914, despite the outbreak of war three months earlier. While most of the pages of the Yorkshire Evening Post were dedicated to news of the conflict, one small advert announced the opening of a new picture palace, “the cosiest in Leeds” – an accolade it can still boast today. The interior of the Picture House is comforting yet decadent, care-worn yet luxurious, creating a film-viewing atmosphere you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. But this would mean little were it not for the quality of material screened. During the war, the Picture House provided news bulletins, war footage and morale boosting dramas as well as a means of escapism via the movies. Nowadays, it supports rich facets of filmmaking often neglected and overlooked by mainstream multiplexes: art-house flicks, indie dramas, feature-length documentaries and the best of international cinema.
However, the Picture House doesn’t discriminate against Hollywood just because of its size. If a big-name film makes its way into the Hyde Park Picture House, that’s pretty much a guarantee that the movie isn’t hollow, corporate rubbish. Take this season’s Rush, for example, a film which sees director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code) team up for a second time with screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) for a drama about F1 celebrities James Hunt and Niki Lauder, starring Avengers Assemble hunk Chris Hemsworth. Hardly the noble effort of unheard-of indie filmmakers. And yet the Picture House will be screening two to three showings a day of Rush from now until Wednesday 25th September. It should come as no surprise then, to anyone familiar with the Picture House’s standards, that Rush has been universally acclaimed.
And it isn’t just the finest new releases that draw crowds from across the city. A huge part of the Picture House’s appeal is its tradition of showing classic movies and cult favourites, such as the upcoming midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, at which audiences will almost certainly be encouraged to dress up and Time-Warp along.
So whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool cinephile or just a hungover fresher looking for a more cultural way to spend the next evening, The Hyde Park Picture House should become one of your first ports-of-call when it comes to movie-going in Leeds. Competition from the Vue multiplex, the posh Everyman in the Trinity Centre and Headingly’s similarly adorable Cottage Road Cinema might beckon. But, when it comes to quality, time doesn’t lie.