Screen one of The Empire on Leicester Square is the largest non-IMAX cinema screen in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe. There’s always been some acoustic issues in the room, and I find it hard to believe they’ve been running Dolby Atmos in there since last summer because the sound has been a little less than perfect all the while.
Still, they’ve got a good rake in their seating, there’s space for over 1300 people and for huge events like Frightfest, there’s really been no better option in the centre of the capital. I’ve had a lot of very, very good times in this room.
But I’ve been hearing for weeks that the screen is about to be closed down, mashed up and turned into a number of smaller screens. Some folk have said that there will be two screens taking its place, others have said as many as four.
But Empire Cinemas aren’t talking. At all.
Indeed, I’ve spoken directly to a number of their staff and always been told the same thing: that there’s no comment. “There will be no public statement on screen one.”
Still, it’s happening, and I believe it’s happening tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that the last film to play in The Empire One, as many know it, will be the closing film of this year’s Frightfest, Big Bad Wolves. Monday August 26th, 9pm. The tear-down is expected to be well underway before we all wake up on Tuesday morning.
Here’s an excerpt from the “heritage” page on the Empire Cinemas website, long since without any updates.
Following the war years the Empire was re launched in 1949 as the Showplace of the Nation and in 1952 the Empire featured in Chaplin’s film Limelight. In 1959 the Empire closed to allow for the installation of a new projection booth. No less than three Philips DP 70mm machines were fitted (known as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of projectors), and the theatre reopened in December 1959 with the epic Ben Hur, which went on to run for 76 weeks. After thirty-three years and forty-six million admissions (more than the entire population of the UK at the time), the decision was taken by MGM to remodel and refurbish the building in 1961. This overhaul continued the tradition of using only the finest and the best for the Empire, creating a cinema of supreme distinction. Technically, the cinema was upgraded to incorporate the latest in sound and projection equipment, together with full air-conditioning and the largest screen in London for both 35mm and 70mm presentation.
Architect George Coles produced an impressive entrance and lobby in black and white Italian marble, and designed a comfortable 1,330 seat, stadium-style auditorium. Each seat had a superb view of the screen, ample legroom and a reclining design. The auditorium was designed in a series of arches encompassing the walls and ceiling in different textured panels, and the edge of each arch contained banks of coloured lights that could be phased and changed to produce different lighting effects on the walls and ceiling. Following the takeover of the site by Empire Cinemas, work on updating the facilities has commenced with the installation of a 56 Thousand Watt THX certified sound system and the UK’s largest cinema screen. This will restore the Empire to its proud place as the pre-eminent cinema in the UK.
Just to clarify, the screen being described there is the one that’s getting ripped out.
Big Bad Wolves happens to look like a great film, and Frightfest’s affectionate relationship with The Empire should mean that the screen gets a really great salute in its closing moments. I’m sure it will be a bittersweet moment for me to shuffle out of this auditorium for the last time.