You can’t shake a cat in a London summer without hitting an opera screening, play performance or film screening.
They’re all quite easy to do; a projector, a white wall and some chairs are the basics, but throw in popcorn, drinks and blankets and you’ve got a perfect summer party. However you are putting a great deal of faith in the British weather, running a high risk of leaving the venue soaked to the skin. You don’t even get to say you watched the film under the stars, because who can see stars in central London? My only experience of outdoor cinema was the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by the edge of a lake in Canada, smelling of deet and gazing at the stars from an old camping chair. I wondered if London’s offerings could rival it.
Such was my enthusiasm that I booked tickets for two of the fourteen nights of cinema in the courtyard of Somerset House; the Prom Night trilogy (Mean Girls, Carrie and The Loved Ones) and Kes. Not only was the setting beautiful but it was a bone fide party; rugs, blankets, pillows, coolers, takeaway from Pizza Express and a plethora of M&S goodies transformed the courtyard into Hyde Park on a hot day.
The evening had a great communal feel about it; here we all were, huddled together in blankets, surrounded by empty popcorn packets, staring at an obscenely large screen mounted onto the building with Dolby sound booming across the courtyard. Three thousand of us laughed at the same time, screamed as one and simultaneously chanted ‘you go Glen Coco.’
The weather both nights seemed to fit with weather typical of the settings of the films – beautifully clear for Prom Night, biblical flood during Kes – but our spirits were not dampened, thanks to an incredibly sturdy umbrella. We were even lucky enough to see someone asleep on the platform under the stage, leaving us wondering who falls asleep during Carrie. No, really, who?
This was altogether a more intimate affair; one hundred of us squeezed into a cordoned-off area in the centre of St. Martin’s Courtyard as shoppers and diners weaved around us, with some oddly taking pictures. Perhaps so many people wearing enormous headphones and plastic ponchos staring up at Ben Stiller working ‘blue steel’ looked a bit odd. Can’t imagine why. Still more sat at tables in Bill’s, Suda and Dalla Terra, craning their necks whilst enjoying dinner.
The sound was perfect, screening on time and efficient and, were it not for the weather, it would have been a perfectly pleasant night. But there was a constant feeling of imposing upon others, as if you had been extracted from a nearby cinema and placed in the middle of a courtyard, as curious passers-by looked on. The little pop-ups from Suda and Bill’s, as well as the ushers bringing around free popcorn were all very welcome and this event could be well on its way to becoming a London fixture.
Now this is brave: an outdoor cinema event that doesn’t just dip its toes into the unpredictable September weather, instead diving in and running until 27th September. The 1,000-seather amphitheatre at The Scoop at More London offers a film for every taste, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Grease. If you’re a keen planner like me, you’ll be perturbed that you can’t book tickets, you just have to rock up with your blanket and picnic and choose a seat. But since the festival has been going for 11 years, they seem to know what they’re doing. Unlike Somerset House and St. Martin’s Courtyard, they may cancel in case of inclement weather, saving viewers the awkward umbrella hustle. If you’re feeling brave and have the confidence to work a poncho, head down to More London and elbow your way to a prime spot.