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The history of cinema in Mayfair is predominantly characterised by the history of the famous Curzon art-house cinema – located at number 38 on the street of the same name. Nestled between Hyde Park and Green Park, and just a stone’s throw away from St James’ Palace and the grandiose May Fair Hotel, the historic Curzon cinema has always been at the forefront of British film culture. Bringing only the best feature films to London’s most luxurious neighbourhood, the Curzon’s evolution reflects that of the capital city around it.
Today, the Curzon exudes class and exclusivity: its main screen is one of the largest in London; the palatial 43- by 20-foot display can be admired from two elegant Royal Boxes. The Curzon is also one of those rare cinemas in which you might enjoy a screening whilst sipping a glass of wine from its Art Deco bar,and it hosts at least 12 star-studded premieres a year.
A Grade II listed building, the Curzon cinema is without doubt an integral feature of the area, complementing some of the most expensive property in Mayfair. Yet, the Curzon is proud to call itself an ambassador of independent art-housefilm: it houses a more intimate screen for the true cinephiles to savour a mid-week indie screening and, unusually, screens documentaries.
How can the Curzon reconcile this apparent clash of exclusivity and popularity? Simply, it seems, this dichotomy grew organically from the Curzon’s long history. The art-house opened in 1934 and was an immediate success. Sadly, following this initial success, not even Mayfair was spared the suffering of war and the Curzon closed in 1939. Yet this time was not entirely ill-fated for the art-house: it was during this period that Harold Wingate acquired the lease. The Curzon has been in his family ever since.
Following its demolition, the Curzon re-opened with a bang in 1964. Always at the forefront of cinema, the Curzon imported and screened some of the first foreign language films in Britain. Remarkably, Max Ophüls’s‘La Ronde’ (1950) was shown for 17 months straight andis rumoured to be the reason behind the introduction of the X-certificate rating in the UK.
Far from being left behind at the turn of the century, the Curzon has embraced top-quality satellite technology, which allows it to screen live transmissions of performances from around the world. From the far-flung New York Metropolitan Opera to next-door’s London National Theatre, the Curzon sources a wide range of spectacles to offer its customers.
Clearly, the history of cinema in Mayfair is tied to an institution: the Curzon soldiers on today as a bastion of British and foreign film in London. A firm favourite of the locals, the Curzon continues to delight and reward its loyal Mayfair clientele with a cinema experience that is rare and invariably enjoyable. Taking place between 5th and 16th October, the British Film Festival demonstrates the strength of Britain’s film industry, and at the very heart of it all we find Mayfair and the Curzon.