Words Posy Gentles Photographs Faversham Film Society and Lisa Valder
The Royal Cinema in Faversham has survived lockdown and with it, the redoubtable Faversham Film Society which has just celebrated its 40th anniversary.
We are in the midst of an excellent season of the less widely screened British, American and world films which are the stuff of the Faversham Film Society. It has three seasons of six or seven films a year, showing at fortnightly intervals at The Royal on Monday nights. Still to come this season are The Perfect Candidate, directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, who became the first Saudi woman to direct a feature film, screening this Monday 14 February at 7.45; and followed by Harriet on 28 February and Grandma on 14 March.
Details of these films and future seasons can be found on the Society’s website. Here you will also find a rather enthralling archive of the Film Society’s screenings with viewing figures and opinions. All are welcome to the screenings but you could also, for an annual fee of £5, join the Film Society for which you will get the programme emailed to you, a Friday reminder of the coming Monday’s film with film notes, and an opportunity to support The Royal, indisputably one of Faversham’s best assets. All films are watched by one of the Society’s committee before showing.
Faversham Film Society began in 1981 after a local film director John Bennett, placed an advertisement in the local paper and was delighted when more than 40 film enthusiasts contacted him. They formed a committee, borrowed equipment and for the next 13 years, Faversham’s passionate cinephiles carted a projector around to rooms above pubs, the back of council offices, the meeting hall of the Fleur de Lis, the old, and then the new, Arden Theatre. The quality of projection was variable; the sound often worse. Film Society committee member Jane Hannath, says: ‘The first film I saw when I arrived in Faversham resembled something like two pillowcases sewn together.’
At around the same time, the Royal Action Group in Faversham was battling to save The Royal Cinema. It opened in 1936 as The Odeon, of an eccentric Tudorbethan style (see Faversham Life’s article of 16 September 2016), but since the 1970s, had suffered the indignity of becoming a bingo hall. By the early 1990s, the Council wanted to redevelop it as sheltered housing. It survived by the skin of its teeth and in 1994, it was bought by the present owners Michael Harlow and Peter Baldock, and reopened as an independent cinema. In 1995, it was agreed that it should provide a permanent venue for Faversham Film Society on Monday nights. Dolby stereo sound, and a massive screen meant that for the first time the Society’s members could watch films as they were supposed to be seen (and heard). The rest of the week, The Royal, one of only around 100 large screen cinemas left in the country, shows the latest blockbusters and Oscar contenders.
The lockdown was a struggle. Jane says: ‘The Royal took a helluva hit with Covid. The most important thing now is to get bums on seats. The first time back inside The Royal was wonderful – like coming home. The lights dimmed and there was that familiar excitement as the huge screen in the darkness suddenly filled with light and colour. You don’t really get that on a home screen, no matter how large. There are always distractions – the temptation to pause or check your phone too great.’
There aren’t many towns the size of Faversham with such a handsome cinema in the heart of the town. Jane says: ‘The Royal is very special – a magnificent old-style cinema with an enormous amphitheatre and an enormous screen and where the picture quality and sound are state of the art. And there is easy parking and lots of lovely pubs to repair to afterwards to discuss the films!’
Text: Posy Gentles. Photos: Lisa Valder and Faversham Film Society