This week on our tour of London’s indie cinema circuit, we found ourselves drawn to a true titan of all things film, popcorn, and new-wave hipsterism in the East – the Genesis Cinema in Mile End.
Standing proudly in the middle of Whitechapel, it’s hard to talk about the Genesis without addressing the sheer historical weight of the place. First opening its doors way back in 1848 as a music hall, this is a building with a story (or two, or ten) to tell. It’s been a variety theatre, became a cinema in 1912, and has been relaunched, rebranded, and revitalised time and again up until its most recent incarnation as the Genesis in 1999.
There’s clearly something about the building that people just can’t leave alone and we’re all better off for it. It’s not hard to see why – it’s a gorgeous place, eclectically decorated with original stonework and art deco ornamentation, full of large, open, dramatic spaces without feeling impersonal, instead boasting intimate nooks and crannies complete with suitably deep and shabbily comfortable sofas, all topped off with a wonderfully old-school exterior listings board.
Put another way: if you like purple, you’re going to love it.
Like any good – and, let’s face it, realistic – indie venue, the Genesis keeps a diverse programme consisting of traditional blockbuster fare tempered by a strong arthouse showing. We went to see indie darling The Big Sick in the magnificent Studio 5 screen (writeup coming soon but spoilers: it’s great) while other listings for the day ran the gauntlet from semi-indie breakout hit Baby Driver to the latest Marvel mega-spectacle Spider-Man: Homecoming (and The Emoji Movie… nobody’s perfect, guys).
One of the things that really sets the Genesis apart is its seasonal programming – effectively blocks of themed films, both past and present, to celebrate something. This could be anything from the Genesis’s own birthday (it recently marked 18 years of its newest incarnation and took us way back to 1999 with £2.50 movie tickets) to the current Directed By Women season and a programme for Black History Month.
The Genesis boasts 5 screens, with its largest seating an impressive 575 – it’s a massive space and stands testament to the building’s origins as a theatre with a stage in the foreground beneath the pleasantly big, bright screen. The main highlight here however is undoubtedly the luxe Studios, of which Studio 5 is the best.
Studio 5 is luxurious in every sense of the word, with ultra-comfortable 2-person sofa chairs, blankets, footrests, and even an in-screen bar if you want it.
The studio screens themselves aren’t the best and could do with being a little bit bigger – but when you’re fully loafed, sushi’d in a blanket, and comfortable as all hell, it’s hard to care too much.
This level of comfort comes at a price however – £4-4.50 on top of the ticket price to be exact. But even then, with tickets costing £5 on weekdays and £10 on the weekends, the prices are hard to complain about – particularly when an ordinary seat ticket in *insert West End chain cinema of choice here* will set you back upwards of £15.
They also have memberships, offer student discounts (though not Meerkat Movies), and have some pleasingly progressive policies like this:
Snacks-wise the Genesis wears its hipstery hankerings on the edge of its sleeve, like glitter on a beard or, er… rims on glasses. It feels almost like an indoor market with several stands and counters spread over both floors, each focusing on a particular thing: coffee and hot drinks are available from one counter; soft drinks, sweets, and popcorn from another; hot food like pizzas, pies, and hot dogs (all suitably artisan) has its own kitchen outlet; and finally a separate bar for all things alcoholic.
It almost gamifies snacking, but we imagine it could become rather frustrating during busy hours with a lot of bodies in the way and the only thing worse than queuing is queuing twice (or three times, or four times). It’s generally quite pricey (though what cinema isn’t) but there’s at least a fantastic community atmosphere to the place to help get you in the cinema spirit, and our food there has always been pretty good.
The Genesis hasn’t simply stood the test of time, it’s beaten it into submission, time-and-again refusing to get left behind, or idly follow trends. Instead, Genesis’s management has worked to fiercely establish a path and character of its own. It truly is a jewel in the crown of London cinema, and long may it reign.