A love letter to the Tyneside Cinema

The Tyneside Cinema turns 85 this year, and here’s why it’s a true gem of Newcastle

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I love the Tyneside Cinema.

The independent movie theatre is a true gem in the Newcastle city centre.

These days, my visits to the Tyneside Cinema on Pilgrim Street are almost weekly thanks to the venue's fantastic deals and smorgasbord of film choices.

In 2022, the cinema is celebrating its 85th birthday, an anniversary marked with a moving video soundtracked by Geordie band Maximo Park's 'Versions of You' before every showing at the moment.

The Tyneside has been a big presence in Newcastle since it was founded by Dixon Scott, great uncle of Sir Ridley, in 1937.

The cinema hosts quirky events such as Halloween all-nighters and Christmas throwbacks and screens films of local importance such as last year's Great North Run documentary, as well as the latest big releases.

Rather than the well-known chain cinemas where impersonal long corridors of doors lead to identical rooms, at the Tyneside the building is dripping with character.

Inside the cinema (Image: Tyneside Cinema)Inside the cinema (Image: Tyneside Cinema)
Inside the cinema (Image: Tyneside Cinema)

Entering through the cafe on Pilgrim Street, you walk past the tables and through a door at the far end of the room to get into the cinema, or you can also sneak through the side door on High Friar Lane.

Many cinema-goers stop in the Bar and Cafe for food and drink beforehand and, whilst I actually haven't done so, a four-star rating on TripAdvisor points to consistency.

Rather than that typical long corridor, the cinema stretches upwards, with one of its four principal screens on every floor.

The names of Screen 1, 2, 3 and 4 that normally appear on your ticket are scrapped each room has its own name; The Classic; The Electra; The Roxy and The Gallery.

The Classic, a theatre-like venue, is the biggest of the four with a capacity of 263.

There's a grandeur about that room, with the screen taking pride of place in the middle of a large stage, and is used for the Tyneside's biggest events.

The grand Roxy screen (Image: Tyneside Cinema)The grand Roxy screen (Image: Tyneside Cinema)
The grand Roxy screen (Image: Tyneside Cinema)

The Electra is a smaller screen with a 132 person capacity and has a more modern feel with its plush blue seats.

Below that is the more personal feeling 89-capacity The Roxy, and The Gallery next door holds just 33 and is used for the more niche screenings.

The Electra is a personal favourite, combining the comfort and experience of a modern cinema chain with the Tyneside Cinema's trademark personality - the screen’s charm almost did enough to save Nick Cage's ridiculous The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent when I caught it there last weekend.

The Gallery often champions smaller films (Image: Tyneside Cinema)The Gallery often champions smaller films (Image: Tyneside Cinema)
The Gallery often champions smaller films (Image: Tyneside Cinema)

I've seen some great smaller films in the cosy The Gallery too, most recently sex-driven French film Paris, 13th District which reminded me of my (much less raunchy) days in the city of love.

The Roxy's size and on-stage screen can sometimes make viewers feel the size of a pea, so is one I admittedly have a love hate relationship with - but for certain films such as Robert Eggers' The Northman, it has the perfect sense of glory.

Everyone will have their favourite and seeing which is on your ticket adds excitement to a visit.

Shamefully, in my first four years of living in the city as a student, I never once set foot in the Tyneside Cinema.

I had a small number of friends who had visited, but it's fair to say they were in the minority among students who opted for the Cineworld with much greater frequency.

There’s a screen for everyone at the cinema (Image: Tyneside Cinema)There’s a screen for everyone at the cinema (Image: Tyneside Cinema)
There’s a screen for everyone at the cinema (Image: Tyneside Cinema)

It has only been over the past six months that I've been visiting the cinema, but I wish I'd been much sooner.

For £45 you can benefit from becoming a Friend of Tyneside Cinema, getting you three free tickets per year, £2.50 off full-price tickets and member-only events - you’d make your money back after just a handful of visits.

Those between 15 and 24 years old, like myself, can benefit from the Young Tyneside scheme for free.

That sees ticket prices slashed to just £4.95 and online booking fees dropped - making the Tyneside by far the most affordable option in the city centre.

The cinema isn't faultless, well-publicised accusations of sexual assault, bullying and harassment from staff in 2020 were serious and not a good look.

Those led to the resignation of CEO Holli Keeble and chair of the board Lucy Armstrong and a damning public executive summary.

The cinema sits on Pilgrim Street (Image: Adobe Stock)The cinema sits on Pilgrim Street (Image: Adobe Stock)
The cinema sits on Pilgrim Street (Image: Adobe Stock)

Since then the Tyneside has fallen into the hands of Simon Drysdale who has revived the cinema after slamming the "horrible" ongoings that preceded him.

Given its new life and all its attributes, it's been with a heavy heart that screenings at the cinema over the past six months have rarely contained more than a handful of people - a few times, there have been just two or three of us in the room.

That's a trend seen in the screens at the Cineworld down the road and the Vue across the river too - it's all about streaming these days, a trend brought to the forefront during the pandemic.

The Tyneside Cinema won't go anywhere, I'm certain about that - there are too many people who care too much about it.

But howay, Geordies, let's be filling our independent cinema once again.