The new Crown Prince of London cinemas has arrived. Behold, the Olympic.
That leafy south-western suburb Barnes was once famous for wetlands and the Bull’s Head pub… soon it will be famous for being home to a marvellous new cinema.
The fascinating story of the Olympic starts in 1906, as a theatre – which soon became a cinema. The cinema traded under a variety of names before closing in 1953 and being converted into a recoding studio and scoring stage (becoming the Olympic Studios in 1966). Then began what was certainly the most noteworthy period in the building’s history – with artists ranging from Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones to Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand all recording albums there.
The Olympic Studio closed in early-2009. Now work to return the Olympic to it’s earlier role as a cinema is complete – and what a piece of work, or work of art, it is. The attention to detail at every level is to be commended – those behind the project clearly care very deeply and it shows. Nothing has been overlooked or left to chance in this place, the glass in the front door gleams, the carpet in the auditorium is deep and soft and the popcorn is delicious.
Overall the building has a feel of a classic cinema about it, the interior of the lobby and bar has a verity of 1930s – 1950s influences. Having not visited before the conversion it’s hard to tell what is original and what is not, but I can say it all looks good. The auditorium – an expanse of rich red – is a pleasure to be in. The seats are the most comfortable in any London cinema (reclining in red wool felt) and my favourite innovation is the addition of small brass drinks tables for each cinema-goer. Typically, there is further attention to detail here with soft felt padding on the tops of the tables in order that upon replacing your glass you do not disturb anyone else.
Every seat has a good view of the very large screen – and even the toilets put their nearest rivals to shame. This place is the new gold standard.
The Olympic seems to be attracting mainly locals at the moment, but it’s appeal is quickly starting to spread across London. On the evening I visited it was an audience made up largely of middle aged couples, with a sprinkling of all other ages. At £15 a pop, it’s more expensive than the average independent cinema in London but still cheaper than the big multiplexes in Leicester Square and you get much more of an experience for your money.
This is it folks, this is the cinema by which all will now be compared. The Olympic is a revelation which may start a revolution. The Olympic treats a trip to the cinema as it should be – a special experience. I sense the management get the idea of ‘the magic of the movies’ and are trying very hard to inject that magic back. Going to the Olympic harks back to what it must have been like to visit the cinema in the 1930s when they were run as glamorous ‘picture palaces’ with smartly dressed ushers and immaculately kept interiors.
The staff at the Olympic are exceptionally helpful – ushers show you to your seat – and before or after the film you can relax in the salubrious surroundings of the Members’ Bar.
In addition, this cinema also has in interesting array of films on offer – showing many classics since it opened in October 2013 as well as the blockbusters on general release.