The Savoy Cinema – Reloaded

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11/09/15

Heaton Moor, Manchester

For many people (me included) it sounds like the proverbial dream job. But for Louis Mundin and his fiancée, Sophie Smith, it’s soon going to be a reality. This likeable young couple will be managing Heaton Moor’s iconic Savoy Cinema when it reopens, fully refurbished, in late October.

The Savoy has been a fixture on ‘the Moor’ since 1923. Its first feature was silent movie, The Virgin Queen, which was accompanied by music from a string quartet. Over the years, the Savoy has endured, surviving a barbaric 70s refit, sporadic attempts to turn it into a ‘fun-pub’ and the dark mutterings of those who predicted that the advent of digital cinema would finally sound its death knell. But, as it turned out, the doom mongers were wrong. The Savoy is currently in the midst of an extensive refurbishment.

When I arrive on a sunny Friday afternoon, the place is a hive of industry and it’s apparent at a glance that this must be a labour of love, although – at the moment -it’s more like hard labour as the Mundin family work around the clock to ensure they meet their launch deadline of October 23rd. Sophie is painting wood stain onto sheets of plywood, while Louis is in conference with a team of builders. Louis’s mum Amanda is there too, overseeing the workforce and, somewhere amidst the thumping of lump hammers and the screeching of electric saws, I catch a fleeting glimpse of Tony, Amanda’s husband. It’s clear that the Mundins are an industrious crew, who rarely stop for a break, but I eventually manage to coax Louis and Sophie to a (relatively) quiet spot where we can chat.

I begin by asking if this is the realisation of a long-held ambition.

Louis: Well, yes. We first got into cinema about eight years ago, when Mum took over the Ritz Cinema in Belper. We worked there part time, helping out behind the bar and so forth. Me and Sophie both love film so when this opportunity came up, we grabbed it with both hands.

I remark that they seem to possess an enviable skill set between them.

Sophie: Well, we recently did up our home, so we used that very much as a training exercise!

The Savoy offers reasonably priced membership deals and the Mundins were initially expecting to sell 500 of them at most. So they must have been absolutely blown away with the response they’ve had.

Louis: It’s amazing. We’ve been absolutely inundated with support from day one. At last count we had 3,400 members, which is completely unheard of.

Indeed, the response was so enthusiastic that initial plans to restore just a proportion of the Savoy’s seating had to be hastily rejigged and now all 180 seats will be brought back into play – and not just any old seats! The standard kind will be augmented by luxury Pullman style seating and, for the more romantically inclined, there’ll even be double sofas so customers can snuggle up while they view.

Sophie: They are incredibly comfortable seats!

But, I ask, with so many members, what happens if everybody turns up on the same night?

Louis: That would actually be a good problem to have!

Sophie: As with our other cinemas (the family also run the Regal in Melton Mowbray), booking will be a key element. Members will receive film listings a few days prior to general release so they’ll have the opportunity to book seats for the films they really want to see.

Louis: And a week before we officially open we’ll be starting our free members’ previews, a whole week’s worth of them, as a thank you to everyone who has put their faith in us. Depending on take up, we’ll probably also offer free Sunday shows that week, so nobody is disappointed.

I ask what their biggest challenge has been and both of them say that restoring the frontage has been a real struggle. The original plan had always been to expose the elegant Doric columns that supported the portico, but once revealed, it soon became apparent that whoever boxed them in back in the 1970s had not treated them with the necessary degree of respect. In short, they’d knocked the living daylights out of them.

Louis: We worked with the conservation officers on that. It was in everyone’s interests to preserve them, but unfortunately they’d been too badly damaged and were no longer safe. In the end, we had to accept that they’d have to come down, but we’re going to replace them with cast stone pillars, that will recreate the original look. They’ll be as close to identical as we can possibly get.

Of course, it’s not just about restoring the original style. The Savoy will boast state-of-the-art digital projection, surround sound, and there’ll even be live link- ups to ballet and opera events. There’ll be intelligent programming, a mixture of art house and commercial films, silver screen shows for pensioners and weekend matinees for the kids.

I can’t resist asking Louis and Sophie to name their favourite films.

Louis: I’d have to go for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m a massive Peter Jackson fan.

Sophie: I like a good psychological thriller, so I’d definitely go for Shutter Island. It’s got Leonardo Di Caprio and it’s got one of those endings that you can’t stop talking about afterwards.

Plans are already afoot for Halloween. Members have been asked to choose from a shortlist of five movies for the big night. (At the moment, Ghostbusters is the frontrunner, closely followed by The Shining, though my personal choice from the list would have to be Rosemary’s Baby.)

I finish up by asking about the couple’s mission statement. What do they hope to achieve by bringing this beautiful old cinema back to its former glory?

Louis: We want it to be an asset to the community. We would like to give something back to the people who have given us so much faith and trust. We want the Savoy to be one of the best cinemas in the country and there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t be exactly that.

Sophie: The Savoy is going to have the best projection, the best sound, there will be no compromise on quality and people will even be able to enjoy a glass of wine while they watch.

Sounds like heaven, I tell them. Lead me to it!

Read more about the cinema’s progress at

http://www.savoycinemaheaton.com/blog.htm

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