I expect most, if not all of you, have easy access to a shiny new, modern, plushly upholstered, deep seated multiplex, with many screens all showing a choice of the latest blockbusters and maybe even a worthwhile non mass produced art film. You probably have vendors for popcorn, drinks and ice cream. It’s a splendidly modern, comfortable, luxurious experience, maybe even including the services of an usherette. (Are there still usherettes to light you to your seat?) You settle in and watch your chosen film. Afterwards, you get up and leave. If you are in company you may discuss what you have just seen in a few sentences before you move on to whatever comes next for you.
You have no idea what going to the movies means in a little back-of-beyond place where the whole event happens in the village hall. The film, possibly chosen by popular demand, has been advertised for some weeks. It’s the only one on offer. Village halls are large, empty spaces, the multi purpose ones have a raised stage at one end for village pantomimes and amateur dramatic performances of slight comedies, some written by the village’s literary titan. In an annexe there are rows of chairs and trestle tables, cheap plastic or wooden ones, which can be unfolded. Another annexe holds a kitchen for the inevitable tea and cakes donated by village ladies. There may even be a bar in the more adventurous communities whose fundraising efforts have been successful over the years of the hall’s existence. Many events happen in the village hall, from dog training sessions via all kinds of exercise classes for the older generation, to indoor fairs, vegetable sales, and a myriad of fundraisers by various village societies. And movie shows.
Some kind souls on the hall committee - of course there’s a committee, nothing in rural England happens unless it’s organised by a steering committee - have gone in early to set up a few rows of hard chairs. These are soon occupied and whoever comes later fetches their own chair from the annexe. If you are in a group you help yourself to a trestle table and range chairs to one side of it. You may have brought your own alcoholic drink or some snacks, but you can rely on tea being served during the interval. Yes. a village movie show has an interval. Quite an extended one, actually. If the bar is open you can buy a drink, a beer or a glass of cheap wine. But the highlight is the obligatory choc-ice.
The interval is necessary to replace the DVD disc. During the changeover the social part happens. Everybody gets up and mingles. Friends are greeted, enemies are studiously avoided, gossip is exchanged and people who last met a day ago fill each other in on what happened since. It’s like the Bath Pump Room in a Jane Austen novel. Of course, the film gets a look-in too, although, for the moment, a bit round the edges. ‘What do you think of it’ , this is asked either with a smirk or a shudder, depending on how scary or sexually explicit it is.
The film finally gets discussed properly on the following days. On this occasion it was “The Favourite”. “Did you go? What did you think? Did they really swear that much? And what about all the sex? Was that necessary? Bit too much, in my opinion. I was hoping that (insert name of elderly, prudish, sheltered-life lady here) didn’t have her hearing aids in." Followed by a shudder. “Whatever can afore-mentioned elderly lady have thought of it?” Another delicious shudder, accompanied by a perplexed shake of the head. All are happy, It was a splendid evening. Some of us even took our folding chairs back to the annexe.
So, now tell me, which venue would you rather attend, your germ-free multiplex or my do-it-yourself village hall?