Nowadays, we can stream a film directly to our mobile devices or TVs to watch at our own convenience. Gone are the days when hundreds of children would spend a morning or afternoon queuing up noisily to see the latest adventures of Hopalong Cassidy, Abbot and Costello, The Lone Ranger and Laurel and Hardy, to name a few. These were times when films were shown continuously, which meant you could spend hours at the cinema, if you managed to keep out of sight of an usherette!
The first purpose built cinema to open in Edinburgh was The Haymarket Cinema opening in 1912. In 1914, The Cameo (then called The Kings Cinema) opened, and is one of the oldest cinemas still open in Scotland. It was estimated that by 1917 there were 24 cinemas in Edinburgh. When the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre opened in 1929, it was the city’s first super cinema, able to seat up to 3000 people.
The Cameo Cinema, opened in 1914
Talkies arrived in the late 1920s, but before then cinema operators would enhance the viewing experience by using music and orchestras or adding their own home-made sounds for effects such as horses’ hooves, pistol shots and explosives.
Children’s Saturday film clubs with songs, quizzes and safety-first films were extremely popular, the first one started in the New Tivoli in 1934. There was even a song for the ABC Cinema club, which would be sung enthusiastically at the beginning of the proceedings.
We are the boys and girls well known as
Minors of the ABC,
And every Saturday all line up
To see the films we like and shout with glee
We like to laugh and have our sing-song
Just a happy crowd are we-e
We’re all pals together
We’re Minors of the ABC
The Tivoli, Gorgie.
Alas, most of the cinemas built in the 20s and 30s no longer exist. These were built in the heyday of Art Deco and were magnificent to look at, both inside and out. Many were turned into Bingo Halls or demolished.
The George (formerly County) cinema, Portobello
Edinburgh has one of Britain’s last remaining independently-run cinemas. The Dominion Cinema in Morningside opened in 1938 and is still owned and run by the Cameron family. Erected in only 3 months, The Dominion was one of the last and most characteristic Art Deco buildings in Edinburgh.
The Doninion Cinema, Morningside
Edinburgh is also host to the longest continually running film festival in the world, The Edinburgh International Film Festival. Established in 1947, it originally viewed documentary films and as its reputation grew expanded to incorporate international films. EIFF’s success has continued and notable films premiered include Brave, the Hurt Locker, Billy Elliot, Little Miss Sunshine, and this year, a remake of the 1949 film Whisky Galore!
The Filmhouse, Edinburgh, host of the EIFF
Edinburgh has also featured in many films. One of the earliest, The Body Snatcher (1945) featuring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, was based on the short story of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson. With many references to Burke, Hare and Dr Knox, it was marketed as “The screen’s last word in shock sensation”!
Another film adaption from a book by Edinburgh author Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was released in 1969 and featured Edinburgh heavily. Donaldson’s School (now Edinburgh Academy) on Henderson Row stood in for Marcia Blaine School for Girls, and when Jean leads her charges on a tour of the city, the Grassmarket, the Vennel, Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriars Churchyard all feature.
Probably the most well known film featuring Edinburgh is Trainspotting, and yes by yet another Edinburgh author, Irvine Welsh. Although the book is based in Edinburgh, Leith in particular, very little of it was actually filmed here. One very famous scene was though, Renton and Spud being chased by security staff along Princes Street.
To see more photos of Edinburgh Cinemas, some now long gone, visit Capital Collections.