January 2015: The Theory of Everything at The Red Carpet Cinema, Barton Marina
In the course of four years visiting cinemas up and down the land, some screenings have coincided with important life events and taken on greater significance by association. Others have started out as a simple exploration of a previously undiscovered picture house, only to become landmark events in their own right thanks to the inspiration and motivation they provided.
I don’t go looking for these special occasions. The promise of enjoying good food, company and films in an interesting building is reward enough. Not every movie-going experience has to be a milestone in life – we simply hope to be moved and entertained by the films we choose, because the cinema is a place to escape and live out other versions of reality than our own.
Frankly, not every account about the latest indie needs to be a voyage of spiritual awakening. It's exhausting! In November I watched Interstellar at the Genesis cinema, East London. Its themes of time, space travel and family were complex and, even though I can tie it into my wider experience of the day, part of me wishes the visit had coincided with a less emotionally taxing spectacle.
While I will eventually commit to paper the words that the Genesis thoroughly deserves, I went to the Red Carpet with no more expectation than to relax, enjoy a good feed and make up my own mind about a film that was being touted for any number of awards.
The marina just outside Barton-under-Needwood, not far from Burton, is a unique setting for a cinema. The distinctive location put me in mind of the Kinema in the Woods in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. The eighteen-month-old Red Carpet can’t quite match the back-story of the Kinema (their first screening was in 1922), but history is irrelevant when it comes to a cheery hello and a bloody good lunch. The Red Carpet offered both in spades.
On a chilly Thursday in January it was hardly surprising to find the marina with only half an eye open, pretending to be asleep. The moored narrow boats huddled for warmth, while hardy dog walkers had to be well wrapped up – but at least their dogs were more than happy, bounding around the large open spaces.
The art deco-themed interior of the Red Carpet, meanwhile, was warm without being oppressive, the walls bedecked with artwork without being cluttered or overbearing. The large café retained a cosy feel, and people were already tucking into sizeable plates of food. Finding a table was no issue, and the menu offered as much choice as you could want.
At risk of sounding like I want a job on Masterchef, the tomato soup starter was rich with … well, tomato … and so silky smooth that it took zero effort to eat. The main course was the star though: a flavoursome lamb ragu, perfectly seasoned and flanked by garlic bread and hummus. As if to prove how every bit of the Red Carpet experience has been thought through, even the side salad was delicious – far better than the sad collection of wilting leaves that usually passes for an accompaniment in many eateries.
The foyer showcased another thoughtful touch: a folder containing the story of how the Red Carpet came into being. The long hours and near-insane level of financial risk taken on by the founders, Kate Silverwood and her husband, was charted on their website week-by-week. Collating the blog posts into a complete record stood as testament to their commitment and the success of the venture, and the open and honest style of Kate’s writing only warmed me to the place further.
As lunch progressed the café grew positively rowdy with a full crowd, nearly all of pensionable age, getting ready for the 2pm showing of The Theory of Everything. The demographic reminded me of seeing The King’s Speech in 2011 – another Working Title picture – which pretty well set the mood for the afternoon’s entertainment. Before that though, there was another chance for The Red Carpet to stamp its personality on the occasion.
Among the adverts and the trailers were a couple of “bossy” (their word!) messages from the management. “For a small business like us to succeed, we have to offer a different experience to the multiplexes…” started one, and the honesty was admirable. The highlight was the second caption, dealing with the issue of noise, which managed to be both funny and thoughtful on the subject of making sure everybody could enjoy the screening.
So, what of the film? Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking was as remarkable as his many award nominations suggested. Compelling as he was, however, he couldn’t mask the strange aimlessness of the script. Ensuring mainstream appeal by avoiding excessive detail of Hawking’s physics might have been inevitable, but at times the storytelling brushstrokes were so broad that it felt like the film wasn't always sure which tale it was telling.
Any film based on a true story must employ artistic licence to adapt it to the medium, but The Theory of Everything often felt like it was taking an easy route to its audience’s heart. It relied on Redmayne’s physical performance more than Hawking’s character, and I got no sense of a definitive ending in store as the credits approached.
At which point, against all expectations, the film came up trumps.
It gleefully ignored my concerns and finally grasped a frosty heartstring. Reunited for a royal appointment, the estranged Stephen and Jane Hawking gazed upon their three children. After the highs and lows of the previous two hours, that famous digital voice communicated tremendous pride as it said: “Look at what we made.”
I wanted to enjoy the Red Carpet for what it was – a little gem of an independent cinema – without worrying about life lessons or sweeping philosophical ideas. I’d expected to be dazzled more by The Theory of Everything, but if I wanted physics then I could have read A Brief History of Time instead.
Given the attitude I took into the film, I was content with what it had to give - but at the eleventh hour, in those five simple words, it made a connection. “Look at what we made,” I thought, admiring a building that was the vision of two people who wanted to bring a cinema to their community, and who dared to achieve their ambition of honouring the classic cinema experiences of old.
I looked at what they had made and knew that my love and admiration for these brilliant indies was as strong as ever. I knew as well that my own adventures would have to continue into 2015 and beyond, because there is no limit to the ideas of others or to what is out there awaiting discovery. Well, that’s my theory anyway.
If you enjoyed this blog post ...
... then you might like the tale of my journey around some of the UK's finest indie cinemas (and a few further afield). A Tour of the Indies: A Creative Quest for the UK's Best Cinema's ... and Cake has this dedicated page where you can read more.