Don’t just break the fourth wall, go and watch a film outside

Jack Allsopp reflects on a summer vac spent basking in the joys of outdoor cinema

source: flickr

This August, I wearily left my workplace, and jumped on an hour long train into central London. Two hours, one heavily delayed train journey, and about ten tubes stops later I arrived in Peckham, already £12.90 worse-off and in unfamiliar territory.

I stepped out from the underground station and after a few minutes’ walk I found myself ascending seven flights of stairs to the top of an abandoned warehouse. The termination of my wanderings: the rooftop of the Bussey Building, where an incredible panorama of the capital city greeted me. To my left was a 15-foot high screen, where Trainspotting (the original) would be screened in about an hour.

Watching a film outdoors is a surreal, magical and utterly enchanting adventure. Across the UK, more and more pop-up companies are making a tidy profit flogging film viewings in beautiful locations. It works. Although the technical expert at the Rooftop Film Club in Peckham was having a few problems in getting the headphones to actually emit any sound, and then inexplicably started the film from about 30 minutes in, the overall experience was wonderful. There is something quite extraordinary about watching a cult-classic as the sun sets, with an entire city serving as the backdrop behind the film itself.

In previous years, I’ve watched The Silence of the Lambs, and The Shining at Somerset House, which is more conveniently situated slap-bang in the heart of central London, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and the South Bank. If you can catch a good film whilst the sun is setting, you are in for a treat. Unlike many other options, at Somerset House you are able to bring your own food in to eat whilst watching, and many take full advantage, with takeaway Pizza Express an especially excellent option. I would have made it a hat-trick of successive visits had the tickets for the best films not been all sold out two months in advance. It is rightly, and frustratingly, very popular.

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So I gave Peckham a chance, and was not disappointed. Whilst Somerset House rightly remains the top choice with its gorgeous neoclassical architecture, and its bar and live DJ contributing to a great buzz prior to the film, alternatives in London (and indeed elsewhere across the country) do exist and have a distinct impromptu charm about them.

Not only did the Rooftop Cinema Club offer a fantastic array of street food, but also deckchairs and blankets, which made for rather more comfortable viewing than only having a picnic rug between yourself and the stone courtyard floor of Somerset House. Therefore, a tip: bring a cushion, no matter how awkward this may make you as a passenger on public transport.

Of course, there is the issue of price when it comes to outdoor cinema. Whereas a visit to your local big screen might set you back a mere £5-6 once the ever-handy student discount is applied, a trip to Somerset House or the Bussey Building is about three times as expensive, and this is of course not factoring in travel costs.

However, I could not recommend it enough as a once-in-a-while treat, an immersive, surreal experience which would make a fine addition to next summer’s bucket list.