We’re at the cinema again and the film we’re here to see is Dark Horse, a charming documentary about the racehorse Dream Alliance. Bred by a consortium of working class people from a former pit village in Wales, the horse went on to become a major player on the racetrack and this is his story, told by the people of the village. It’s an absolute charmer of a film and one which I would normally award more review space to, but tonight is a little bit different, because it’s mostly all about the cinema; the recently refurbished Savoy in Heaton Moor, and frankly that’s something I never expected to be able to say.
The Savoy has been in Heaton Moor since 1923 and it’s seen some changes along the way, not all of them for the better. The last time I was here was shortly before it closed down and the place was in desperate need of some TLC. Grubby, dilapidated and worn down by years of neglect, there were maybe half a dozen people in the audience. I remember joking that I wouldn’t visit again unless I’d had my malaria shots first. But what a change is here, my friends! What a change indeed.
As members of the Friends of the Savoy, we saw Dark Horse at one of the free screenings the Mundin family have set up as an introduction to the venue. On arrival, it was apparent that work wasn’t quite completed. The exterior fascia was still only partly in position and there were heaps of builder’s rubble to negotiate (this despite the team seeming to work every hour of every day to meet their deadline). Those iconic pillars were back, even though they are reproductions, the originals having been so badly damaged in the hideous 70s conversion, they had to be taken down. The place is close to looking its old self (see vintage photo above). Once through the doors though, it really was eyebrow-raising time. What was once a shabby boxlike foyer has now been opened up, with luxury seating for those who wish to quaff a quick drink before the show (people very much like us!)
But it’s when you go into the auditorium that the transformation really hits you. Wow! Can this actually be the same place? The looks of delight on the faces of each successive person who came up the stairs told the story. The word ‘luxurious’ is the first one that springs to mind – and the design team have cleverly avoided turning the place into one of those utilitarian boxes that seem to be all the rage now, opting instead for a traditional look, all wine red velvet, soft cushions and art deco flourishes, a look that hints at the long tradition of the Savoy. The size of the place was also a shock. Around the time of my last visit, much of the back of the cinema was cordoned off and you didn’t really get the full impression of the length of the place, which now seats around 850 customers. We were lucky enough to secure one of the plush double sofas towards the back and I can’t ever remember watching a film in such total comfort.
Oh and in case you were thinking that old and classic meant shonky equipment, don’t be fooled! The Savoy utilises the latest digital technology and crystal clear Dolby surround sound.
This is a cinema lover’s delight and Heaton Moor is incredibly lucky to have it. What’s more, the owners have compiled a programme of great films, including some live link ups for all the theatre and opera lovers in the community. There will be screenings aimed at senior citizens and screenings aimed at youngsters; seriously, they’ve put some thought into this. You’ll find their new website at savoycinemaheatonmoor.com (not to be confused with the old one, which is still lurking about out there, you be careful!)
The Savoy is something to be cherished, so please repay all that hard work by supporting the place. It’s one of only a few independent cinemas still existing in the North West. To step into that auditorium is like stepping back into a more gracious age, a time when cinema was King. The good news is, it looks as though those days are back.
Oh, and I nearly forgot. The bar does an excellent sauvignon blanc!
Dark Horse 4.5 stars
The Savoy Cinema 5 stars