Having gazed slack-jawed at the ‘sgwds’ of South Wales, conquered peaks and braved the waves of Cymru’s coastline, is there another Welsh trip to tick off my list, a great escape for the imagination?
There is, indeed! And it requires no more than a couple of hours of screen-time. No, not that kind of screen. Leave your smartphone at home! I’m thinking of the grandeur of the cinema. There are treasures to be found all around the country... here are eight to tick off your cinema circuit list.
The Magic Lantern, Tywyn
I’ve recently envied all who live in the vicinity of the coastal town of Tywyn, Meirionnydd, because local picture-house The Magic Lantern is quite simply, magical. They arrange regular comedy, music and social events, and have an outside bar, The Secret Garden. The cinema hall itself is Tywyn’s old assembly rooms, originally opened back in 1893. But the timetable is filled to the brim with up-to-date films, including independent wonders from Wales. From the cocktail menu, why not try a ‘Groundhog Day’ or a ‘007’ – shaken, of course, not stirred.
Gaumont Plaza, Flint
This Flint treasure opened in 1938 as a cinema, then the Gaumont Plaza became a bingo hall for many years. That is, until 2016, when it was restored to its former cinematic glory. During the restoration project, an original programme was discovered, which defined the atmosphere within the ‘Plaza’ as ‘that indefinable ‘something’ which transports jaded workers from the humdrum life to a place where worries and troubles are forgotten’. Best book a ticket, to judge for yourselves!
Sol Cinema, Swansea
The ‘smallest movie theatre in the Solar System’, the traveling Sol Cinema was adapted from a 1960s caravan. This miniature movie marvel has hosted 90,000 people, although it only fits 8 at a time. As the name suggests, the Sol is solar-powered, and tours festivals far and wide.
Cell B, Blaenau Ffestiniog
There’s been a rise in the number of digital film cinemas in Gwynedd in recent years. Pontio Bangor, Galeri Caernarfon and Neuadd Dwyfor Pwllheli to name a few, draw visitors near and far. Such centres provide vicarious thrills, fantasy tales and action adventures. But have you ever considered the possibility of watching a gangster flick behind bars? Cell B cinema in Blaenau Ffestiniog may very well be your dream destination, as it used to be the slate town’s police station! It’s also a cool hostel, bar and popular music venue – indeed, the perfect visitor attraction after a day of zip-wire and slate cavern adventures.
Libanus 1887, Borth
Libanus 1887 in Borth, Ceredigion, draws film buffs in for a fabulous feast for the eyes. The converted chapel is full of comfortable armchairs, creating a cozy, luxurious atmosphere in which to watch the latest blockbusters, independent films, classics and special events.
Market Hall Cinema, Brynmawr
The valleys of South Wales are filled with cinematic treasures including the Memo in Newbridge and Blackwood's Maxime cinema. But the oldest of them all - indeed the oldest surviving cinema in Wales - is the character-filled Market Hall in Brynmawr. The first ‘movie’ featured in December 1899 was ‘A Boer War Pictorial’. I wonder what that audience would make of modern CGI blockbusters? And would they still - in this age of ‘Netflix and chill’ - embrace the communal cinema experience? I’m pretty sure they’d love the sweetshop, the ideal ingredient to keep the peace during a timeless trip to the pictures.
Picturehaus at Manorhaus, Ruthun
Stunning Georgian townhouse Manorhaus, Ruthin is filled with stylish contemporary details, and as well as the warm Welsh welcome and incredible seasonal food... there’s also a cinema in the basement! There’s always a selection of new films on offer, as it’s also home to a local film club.
Yes, the Everyman cinema in Cardiff Bay is part of a chain, unlike the wonderfully independent local art centre and arthouse cinema Chapter, but oh boy it has everything a film aficionado could ever wish for. Five Art-Deco style cinema theatres, waiter-service snacks, comfy chairs, and velvet sofas. Not forgetting the ‘Pretty in Pink’ cocktails and ‘Spielburgers’ on the menu, and quite frankly, the best bathrooms in Cardiff! The elegant bar is also a dreamy date destination. Oh, and the stellar selection of films (both classic and current) is, naturally, an added bonus. This prime bayside location is a popular city attraction, and from my own experience, every visit feels like a very special occasion.
The Lyric Theatre, Carmarthen
I couldn’t possibly pen this wish-list without including Carmarthen’s Lyric Theatre, the shining star of the Welsh comedy-drama Save the Cinema. Like many other movies ‘inspired by true events’, what really happened in Carmarthen in 1993 is slightly different to what is shown on screen. The cinema had been advertising the biggest blockbuster of 1993. But it came to their attention that the distributor had no intention of showing Jurassic Park at the Lyric that summer! Local heroine Liz Evans made a beeline for local mayor Richard Godridge; he, in turn, faxed a letter of complaint to director Steven Spielberg’s company, Amblin Entertainment. A response was received within a matter of days, and a promise that Universal Pictures would rectify matters. The offer on the table? Not only a showing at the Lyric Theatre, but the first showing in Wales, to be held on the same evening as the glittering London premiere! A classic tale of derring-do and a determination to beat the system. No wonder Sky Cinema saw the epic potential for a film production.
Film critic Lowri Haf Cooke broadcasts film reviews on S4C and BBC Cymru / Wales. Follow her suggestions on Twitter and Instagram.