In the last year we have seen countless triumphs of the small screen. Not only has it kept us relatively sane in the chaos of global crisis but it has also delivered some truly brilliant creative triumphs. From Staged to Bridgeton we have a lot to thank the little box for, whether it sit on our walls, in our laps, in our hands. However, since cinemas reopened, we have not seen the tidal swell of crowds clustering around their doors that one would expect. Indeed, huge streaming channels such as Disney decided to release Black Widow on Disney+ alongside the cinema opening, keeping us on our sofas instead of cinema seats and leading its star, Scarlett Johannsen, to sue to company for revenue lost.
Whilst my heart doesn’t bleed for a rich woman suing a rich company for a nameless amount of money, it does reach out to the cinemas themselves, who have undoubtedly been more affected by this behavioural change than either party. Cinemas to many are not just a way to while away some rainy hours, but a refuge, a safe space and a livelihood. Video killed the radio star, but what will happen to future of film when cinema dies? Rather than dwell on these existential woes, I would love to tell you about the last time I went to the cinema before COVID closed everything. A time that is now so far gone than it hardly feels real at all…
Picture it, it’s February 24th 2020. James Bond has yet to be cancelled and I am working in an office. An equally harassed work pal and I have vowed that today is the day that we leave on time, because today is the day that we have booked to see Emma in the Leister Square Odeon. So, at six, not after, we looked at each other, nervously grab our bags and scuttled out of the office and into soho – free at last! Grabbing snacks from China Town (which was quieter but not empty by this point) we hurried to get our seats. Entering the darkness of the cinema, I saw we were not alone. Though it’s not at its usual busyness, the cinema is full of little pockets of women, no men in sight. Little giggling groups of teens. Mature older women laden with shopping bags. Friends in office clothes. We had all convened for Autumn de Wilde’s reimagining of the Austen classic. We were not disappointed
Wilde made fresh and modern the witty playfulness of Austen’s writing, within the first five minutes, enrapturing us immediately with quick cut opening scenes of Emma, Anya Taylor-Joy, getting ready. We were then treated to the contrasting visual feast of her suitor Mr Knightly, Johnny Flynn, doing the same only this time we were presented with a full close up of his bare bottom. Titters of delight from the mature ladies behind us as they clutched their Mulberry handbags to their faces. Johnny Flynn; Magic Mike of the snobbish literate. I knew we were in for a great film. As it unfolded De Wilde warmed to her topic, as did the rest of the cast and crew. The costumes were a gorgeous, setting themselves perfectly amongst the beautifully lit and framed set dressing. But Emma is not a style over substance costume drama. With a cast that is equal to the script is as quick as it is clever, despite running over two hours, it is an irreverent and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Thus, it’s able to both set itself within and without the genre, winking at the audience as it makes fun of typical costume drama tropes whilst all the while remaining true to the story and the style of Austen. I have no doubt she would have approved.
However, the thing that made Emma so memorable was the experience I shared with the women around me. Never to see them again, all different, we were joined by our love of the film, the cinema, the experience. Laughing together and watching in hushed silence at the serious moments, made equal by our love of the moment.
That is what is missing from the small screen. Now, we take to twitter, we put up a story, we still reach for connection when we watch something special to us. A dull call of longing for connection that the cinema answers. What is art if no one sees it? Why are some of our most meaningful moments shared with complete strangers? The beauty of cinema lies in these questions, it gives no answers, but it gives us a feeling. I have returned to the cinema, I hope others will join me so I am not left to lament in screens alone.
By Ella Spottiswood
Ella is a Freelance Director/Producer and the co-founder of Soldi Films. When she isn’t making, watching or talking about films, she is writing about them here!