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Discover: The Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford

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The Ultimate Picture Palace

Welcome to the Ultimate Picture Palace, the cinema that lives up to its name. We tell you all you need to know about this stellar venue and what to look out for!

The Ultimate Picture Palace, or UPP as it is more commonly known, is Oxford’s only independent cinema, and a firm local favourite. Located on the corner of Jeune Street and Cowley Road, this retro venue is a cosy 100-seater screen. Films run twice or three-times a day, usually slightly behind main theatrical release - perfect for catching up on all those hits you missed first-time round. Programs range from large British features through to foreign, art-house gems. This buzzing movie theatre is also an important site for the fostering of local projects and acts as a centre for film enthusiasts Oxford-wide.

The cinema landscape these days is awash with multiplexes and corporate chains. Every screen looks the same, and every seat feels ordinary. Since Cineworld bought up Arts Picturehouse in 2012 even art-house exhibitors have started to feel a little … same-y. True independent cinemas are hard to find. All the more reason to discover The Ultimate Picture Palace: a vibrant movie theatre that couldn’t be further away from your average multiplex.

So why give up your nationwide chain for the UPP? The first reason has to be the viewing experience. The UPP somehow manages to be both grand and petit. It’s not a big space—just over 100 seats—but there’s spacious legroom and wide aisles. Having fewer seats has another bonus: everyone is in the audience sweet-spot. No one is squinting at the back, or craning their necks at the front. The acoustics don’t need to blow your head off to fill the room. Small things, but all-important.

Photo Credit: Michael Gross

The building’s design continues the big-small feel. There is a bar at the back of the screen: a space-saving measure, but haven’t you always wanted to have access to a glass of a wine in the screen? The toilet - yes, we are advocating the toilets - are art-deco styled and lie below the screen. The walk to the front feels odd to begin with but it’s all part of the unique UPP experience. Outside, the quirky movie theatre particularly stands out. The cinema’s front is a stunning white colonnade porch. You queue outside - admittedly not great in the rain - and buy admission through the old-fashioned glass ticket window, placed beside the screen entrance.

It’s a little memento of the venue’s rich history. The front is a remodel of the original Edwardian design. Founded in 1911, the Oxford Picture Palace, as it was then known, was the city’s first cinema later joined in 1913 by the North Oxford Cinema - now Jericho’s Phoenix Picturehouse. Since then the UPP has had numerous reincarnations. The movie house closed during the First World War and (bizarrely) reopened as a furniture warehouse. It was not until 1976 that the space returned to projecting films, screening strange and often frowned-upon titles under the name of the Penultimate Picture Palace. The space then closed again. The UPP we know now emerged in 1997, and has undergone a series of refurbishments from local buyers, investors and community schemes.

Photo Credit: Garrett Coakley.

That sense of the local and the community lives on in the UPP’s film program. One-off documentary screenings are often accompanied by Q&As with local academics or specialists. The cinema also puts on regular screenings of locally made short films and features. Membership is a paltry £25 (£22 for concessions), and there are Baby Screenings and the new addition of Dementia Friendly showings. The prices, at least by modern standards, aren’t bad either: £9 an adult, £8 concessions, £6 children.

The main thing you get at the UPP is the perfect atmosphere. Oxford has the highest number of cinemas per capita in the country, Central London excluded. If you live in Oxford, you have your choice of places to watch film. It breeds competition, but it also helps the UPP’s unique feel. The punters who come to a UPP screening are there because they’ve chosen to be there. They haven’t gone to the aforementioned chains. They’ve come to the UPP. It’s a small detail but very important, UPP audiences are interested in interesting film and the experience of an independent cinema. They focus on the screen. They don’t fiddle on their phones, they don’t talk - at least until the film ends, then they talk a lot. It’s a place for people who like movies - and if you like movies, you have to give the UPP a try!

For more information on the Ultimate Picture Palace’s screenings and location, see online.