Opening for the first time last year, at the 60th edition of the BFI London Film Festival, the Embankment Garden Cinema, located in Victoria Gardens, was built out of necessity more than anything else. With the regular cinemas in Leicester Square undergoing upgrades or being demolished for good, Piccadilly lacked the capacity to accommodate the sheer number of film- and cinema-goers that arrive in London every year for the festival.
Leicester Square, the go-to spot for a quick film fix, has seen massive change in the last few years. The Vue multiplex has undergone an impressive, but time-consuming, overhaul – one that left it unavailable for many months during the past two years. The Empire is now owned by the Cineworld chain (but confusingly still maintains its iconic name on the front), meaning their big screen has been reduced to two smaller ones and can no longer be used for premieres. And finally, the Odeon West End has been torn down and is set to be replaced by a luxury hotel. This new hotel is rumoured to house a screening room of its own, but has been under construction for many years now.
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After all this, the Odeon Leicester Square was the last film-festival-worthy cinema left standing in Piccadilly but, given that it plays host to all the major premieres and has only one screen, an alternative venue was desperately needed.
A stones throw from the Leicester Square is The Picturehouse Central. Although the art-deco interiors may have made it an Instagram hero and the new hub of festival activity away from the Southbank, as with Odeon Leicester Square, isn’t quite big enough. Plus with the cramped archways and crowded pavements that surround it, there is no way Picturehouse could host any premieres of note.
Enter the engineering marvel that is the Embankment Garden Cinema.
We’ve seen our fair share of temporary cinemas pop up across London in recent years, and the experience has been mixed to say the least. The outdoor venues, of which Victoria Gardens is one itself, are great in the summer months, but obviously not suitable for Autumn in London. They are exposed not just to the elements, but to passers-by too – and we can’t really imagine that actors and filmmakers are entirely comfortable promoting their movies as commuters and revellers make their way in and out of Central London.
The 780-seater cinema was something of a surprise success, and is back again this year. There’s a great bar, fantastic sight lines from every area of the auditorium and a general sense of excitement of being in such a unique venue built specifically to showcase the best cinema from around the world.
For those reasons, Embankment Garden Cinema is one of, if not the, best place to watch films at this year’s BFI London Film Festival.
Check out the full line up and book your tickets here.
The BFI London Film Festival opens on Oct 4 and runs until Oct 15