October 15 2009
The private cinema was, according to Lucy Miller, the ne plus ultra in the restoration of number 15 Causton Road. The house in Ladbroke Grove, which had for decades been a temporary hostel for travelling Australian students, was bought by the Millers in 2005. They had spent the subsequent years gutting, rebuilding and reinventing it. The scaffolding finally came down in the spring, the snagging was completed in the summer and two months later the enlarged basement with its big screen was ready for popcorn and Technicolor.
Lucy, a “resting” television film editor, had always dreamed of having her own movie theatre. As a small child in the 1970s her father had taken her to watch Carry On Matron at actor Sid James’s personal cinema in his home in Gunnersbury, west London. She had been given a signed programme by the star and a large bag of M&Ms, which in those days was rarer than a sunbed in Clitheroe. It was an unforgettable experience.
And now that she and husband Robert, a successful director of the True Movie genre, had upped their postcode, they too had an opportunity to install an “art house” cinema.
Nowadays the home cinema is no longer the exclusive preserve of the thespian or flashy industrialist. The plasma screen and surround sound allow the lowliest front room to metamorphose into a makeshift Odeon. Naturally, Lucy wanted much more than a flea pit in the lounge, and not only was her new windowless basement the size of a small multiplex screening room, but the floor had been sloped towards the large fixed Supernova screen. The projector could cope with ultra-wide Cinemascope films, the 11-speaker system with two dedicated subwoofers was hidden behind fabric that matched the green velvet décor, and at the back was a small bar with a jellybean dispenser and retro popcorn machine.
Into this £60,000-plus auditorium she squeezed a raft of sofas and comfortable armchairs. It could easily seat 16 long-legged adults and still have room for an usherette – Lucy got her 11-year-old daughter, India, to dress in an appropriately retro costume and hand out Kia-Ora.
After a trial run in which Robert watched a world cinema classic from Senegal and Lucy guiltily devoured the last series of House MD (starring the dishy Hugh Laurie), the Millers held an “opening night”. A dozen friends in the business were invited for drinks, nibbles and a nine o’clock showing.
At 8.55pm Robert turned down the Boss sound system that was playing the collector’s edition of The Stone Roses to give notice to his guests that it was five minutes till the screening. Annoyingly, some of them seemed reluctant to leave their Moscow mule cocktails and mini blinis with salmon roe, which Lucy had chosen to dovetail with the movie.
Robert was a cineaste, possibly because he spent his life making cheesy made-for-TV films. Film, he said, was the greatest of art forms. And to make the point he stood on the parquet apron stage in front of the screen and announced proudly that the first of his fortnightly movies would be Russkiy Kovcheg or Russian Ark, a 99-minute-long single tracking shot through the Russian State Hermitage Museum with a costumed cast of 2,000. After a 10-minute dissertation he concluded that “it was a bravura piece of filmmaking” and settled down with Lucy in the double-front “lovebird” seat – commandeered from a redundant Regal – to watch the opus that one critic had described as “a staggering feat of cinematography”.
Unfortunately, not all his guests were quite so enamoured. Many felt that a more accurate critique was by the reviewer who wrote, “Watching Russkiy Kovcheg was how it must feel to be a teacher with nothing to do except pace up and down an exam room.” Others commented that drying paint had more dramatic pace.
As the film wound its sluggish way through the 33 rooms of the Hermitage, the guests quietly slipped away. By the time the credits rolled – and the Millers waited until every single gaffer had been name-checked – the auditorium was empty. The audience was upstairs in the “farmhouse kitchen” in party mode. And as Robert wandered dispiritedly through the house, one of his guests – possibly with one too many Moscow mules inside him – proposed something a little less earnest at the next showing. “Carry on Ivan, perhaps?” he quipped.