Print & Features Editor Jess Parker reports on The Electric Cinema, the oldest operational cinema in the UK, shutting its doors

Print & Features Editor and MA Film and Television: Research and Production student.
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The Electric Cinema, believed to be the oldest working cinema in the UK, closed its doors on Thursday, February 29, 2024. Located just outside of New Street Station in central Birmingham, the cinema’s last screening, ‘Wicked Little Letters,’ was held on Thursday at 8:30 pm, to the dismay of locals and regular cinemagoers.

The cinema, which dates back as early as 1909, is closed for the foreseeable future, with no indication as to whether the iconic Birmingham location will reopen its doors. The art-deco spot boasted two functioning screens and showed a range of 35mm and digital films.

First screening on December 27, 1909, the location showed silent films before becoming a hub for adult films in the 1970s. The site then moved towards more mainstream films, which were shown alongside arthouse screenings.

As of March 1, 2024, The Electric has updated its website, but the statement does not provide much comfort for lovers of the venue. Simply put, the website now reads, ‘The Electric is now closed.’ So far, there has been no official explanation for The Electric Cinema’s sudden and hasty closure, leaving cinemagoers scratching their heads as to this unexplained tragedy for Birmingham and the UK’s arts and culture scene.

Simply put, the website now reads, ‘The Electric is now closed.’

Flatpack Festival has announced that for the first time in 18 years, The Electric is confirmed not to be a screening venue. The festival explained their standpoint in a blog post, posted on the same date as the closure: ‘The Markwick family who run the cinema have made the difficult decision to close down this week, despite healthy attendances. At the end of March, the building’s current 88-year lease will come to an end. We understand that a property developer intends to apply for planning permission to demolish most of Station Street – except for the Grade II listed Old Rep Theatre – to make way for a fifty-storey apartment block. Such a move would have deeply damaging effects on Birmingham.’

Andy Street, the Mayor of Birmingham, expressed his feelings on the closure in a statement posted to his social media platforms. Street explained that: ‘Station Street is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people’s grave concerns about the future of our arts and cultural scene. Culture is essential to the lifeblood of the West Midlands. That is why the news that Birmingham City Council will be cutting 100% of their grants to cultural organisations is so concerning. But rest-assured we have no intention of standing by and seeing the region’s cultural sector decline. We hope to share more concrete news on our actions soon, and we fully intend to put money where our mouths are.’

It is evident that the sudden closure of The Electric Cinema is a stark reminder of how influential art and culture hubs are to cities like Birmingham, and its loss is greatly felt across the West Midlands. As of March 1, 2024, only time will reveal why The Electric was forced to close despite healthy audience attendance and whether there is any future for the historical site.

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