The Story

The Rex has one huge screen set in a glorious 1938 art-deco proscenium with the sharpest film projection and clearest non-booming sound anywhere in the world. Throughout, its seating is big and soft. It has been called luxurious. It is better. It is civilized. It reminds us of what we have long stopped expecting from public buildings.

There is a good wine list with snacks on clean plates. We are open 362 days a year with a new (ie different) title most days and nights. Only the block-b’s run longer, by demand. More often the small, little known films from across the world, return by demand to full houses over a sustained period.

The Rex opened with ‘Heidi’ starring Shirley Temple on 9th May 1938 to full civic applause. Due to progress and the received wisdom of the time – home videos and voracious multiplexes were it. Small single screen cinemas were dead and gone. Hence The Rex closed down on 28th February 1988.

It reopened as it is now on 5th December 2004. Far from dead, it sells out almost every night, whatever the film. In the early seventies the balcony/circle was boxed-off by a central partition to create two screens in the upper circle. The huge proscenium arch surrounding one of the biggest screens in the UK was closed and turned over to bingo. It would be 30 years before a film would be projected once again on to that (albeit brand new curved and tilted) main screen. It is true that during the Rex’s two-screens bingo years, in an intimate moment in the picture you were watching, you could hear the film next door and the bingo being called downstairs all at the same time.

After many years of words and games, politics, long negotiations and chasing restoration money, the dream came true.

We re-opened after more than sixteen years of derelict neglect and threat of demolition. Grand dreams persist, sometimes taking a lifetime. Realising them can take even longer. Sam Wanamaker’s Globe Theatre opened in 1997, 4 years after his death. Arthur C Clark’s space-elevator is still to rise from a point of entry from some hill in old

Ceylon. Einstein’s theory of relativity is still to be grasped. Darwin’s theory of evolution has light years to go before religion’s unfortunate believers stop pretending there’s some Holy Trinity, Allah or Abraham in charge. Ghandi’s, Martin Luther King’s, Nelson Mandela’s dreams of non-violent societies living in peace has already outlived two of them by the gun with the other serving 27 years for speaking out of turn. Even Hitler managed a good ten years’ dream of a master race.

To include the Rex in such grand historical perspective might seem a little pompous, but apart from Hitler and Mandela (in order of appearance) all the others died before they saw their dream. In that sense we have been lucky – so far. Twelve years of full houses and still sprinting.

Already no other ‘picture palace’, theatre, art gallery or museum and certainly no multiplexes – in the world can boast sell-outs five (sometimes all seven) days/nights a week every week for four years. This is no idle boast. According to visitors from across the world, aside from the Indian/Pakistan sub-continent’s Bollywood blockers, we hear almost every day The Rex thrives like no other cinema in the UK or Paris, Sydney or Rome, New York, Toronto or Leningrad!

Though we have dared to summon a few of history’s greatest brains and tyrants to flaunt our success, The Rex is a one-in-a-million dream we can all enjoy while we’re still here.

People come because it is special. Every public building should be this special. You only stretch the budget once to make something welcoming, comfortable and perfect. If done right it will remain all of these.

Now into our twelfth year, we sell out most nights, with the most obscure titles even in the worst of times. Rivers and Tides, the Story of the Weeping Camel, The Sea Inside, Bom Bon el Perro,

Persepolis and Everything is Illuminated. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Caramel have already sold out many times. Films from all over the world in all languages. The Motorcycle Diaries sold out every month for the first two years – Dec 2004 to Nov 2006 – some months for two or three screenings. An estimated 9,000 people saw it here at The Rex. If a title sells out and still more people want to see it here, we bring it back again and again.

  • The repertoire is diverse, exciting and busy – over 30 films a month on one screen, from big blockers to tiny obscure titles.
  • The surroundings are civilised and enticing, the atmosphere warm.
  • The welcome absolute, the ambience cool, the anticipation electrifying.
  • The tickets are cheap.
  • There is no popcorn, no flacid hotdogs.
  • You can have a drink anywhere in the auditorium.
  • The audience is not ‘captive’.
  • here is no extra charge for being here.

People come for all of this, for the place, for the warmth. Somewhere in there, they come for the film. It is a night/afternoon out at the pictures. The audience wears Sunday-best. You can wear nice clothes. You won’t get covered in detritus or your Sunday-best globbed in chewing gum (no dress-code, people have decided this for themselves).

The seating is not only generous (In all but two rows in the circle, even the tallest can’t reach the seat in front) It is spotless. If we miss anything tell us, but don’t whinge. Downstairs, in the ‘stalls’, you sit in big red, swivel chairs at small, round, candlelit tables, with white tablecloths to the floor.

Imelda Saunton (Vera Drake)
Adrian Scarborough (all kinds! & Q&A interviewer )
Humphrey Lyttelton (with his band three times and again without him in March 2009)
Terry Jones (Life of Brian & Holy Grail)
Martin Freeman (Hitchikers Guide)
Jack Cardiff [the legendary] (Black Narcissus)
Charles Dance (Ladies in Lavender & in Q&A with Dame Judi)
Judi Dench (Everything!)
Matthew MacFadyen (Pride and Prejudice)
John Hurt (Shooting Dogs)
Mike Leigh (Topsy Turvy)
Paul Merton (Silent Clowns & Just a Minute)
Linda Smith (Just a Minute)
Paul McGann (with The Matinee Idles)
Neil Brand (Silent Clowns & Buster Keaton)
Sylvia Syms (The Queen)
Geoffrey Sax (Stormbreaker)
Tim MacInnerny (Severance)
Alan Bennett (The History Boys)
James Nesbitt (Blessed)
Toby Jones (Infamous)
Christopher Hampton (Carrington)
Terence Davies (Distant Voices Still Lives & in Nov 2008 with Of Time and The City)
Joanna Hogg (Unrelated)
Andres Wood and Mamoun Hassan (La Buena Vida)