Guildford Picture Palace

PUBLISHED: 11:17 21 December 2010 | UPDATED: 20:48 16 December 2014

The Issue: Guildford Picture Palace

The Issue: Guildford Picture Palace

For two years, Farnham businessman Mark Gudgin, who runs the popular film nights at the Guildford Institute, has been attempting to introduce an independent cinema to the town. In October, his final bid for 170 High Street – his building of choice – failed, leaving Guildford Picture Palace homeless. But what do the people of Guildford really make of his plans? MATTHEW WILLIAMS finds out

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2010


Supporting the arts...
“I am a member of the British Film Institute and attended the London Film Festival where I watched many films that would almost certainly be on the independent cinema circuit. These films can often inform and educate people about different cultures and societies and should be shown in Guildford. The town is respected for the Guildford School of Acting, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and has a great tradition for the arts, so why not add to this in the form of an independent cinema?”
Colin Arnold, an independent film-maker who lives in Guildford

Time for a permanent home...
We have been going to many of the film nights at Guildford Institute and have seen masterfully-directed classic and foreign films many of which had been unknown to us or struck a nostalgic chord. In the far from ideal environs (especially as the turnout has quickly reached capacity) of the cramped space available, it has been remarkable how such a lively and friendly ambience has built up. The relaxed atmosphere and the enjoyment of excellent food and wine lead to a splendid and stimulating night out for film fans of a range of ages. Having such a facility at the top end of the town away from the night-clubs and noisy bars down below would balance all-day enjoyment of Guildford and enhance its attractiveness for visitors and local people alike.
Brian and Liz Oliver, Normandy residents and would-be sponsors of Guildford Picture Palace

Stepping stones…
I want to see films which are interesting and not always commercially mainstream. The Secret of Kells and L'Illusionist are both animations which I wanted to see in a big way; both award winners and one the sequel to the BBC's overseas film of the year from 2007 or so. Both looked sumptuous. Mainstream cinema chains, however, assumed I wanted to see a diet of cookie cutter trash and gave neither film even one showing. Secondly, as a teacher, I want to feel a warmth and a sense of place in the venue I choose to expand my visual knowledge in and I want the same for the students. I would love to take my students to a place where we could talk, learn, enjoy, anticipate, question and increase understanding. I think that Guildford Picture Palace possibly needs a mid term venue to start and expand from rather than start with the big place first but, well, haven’t Guildford planners already got their quota of coffee shops, fashion chains and pubs?
Paul Kercal, a Guildford-based film lover and arts teacher

Serving a non-mainstream crowd...
I first read about the plans for an independent cinema in Guildford a few months back. I've often found myself disappointed to find that a lot of very good and highly acclaimed films are either not shown in the Odeon or have very limited release times. That's not the Odeon's fault, they have to serve the mainstream audience but at the same time Guildford is a cultured town and is more than deserving of a venture like the Guildford Picture Palace. I was furious when I heard the council's decision that they'd turned down this highly worthy (although admittedly more risky) prospect in favour of yet another clothes shop. But it looks like that is their final decision so we'll have to move on and hopefully we'll find somewhere else. For now, the film nights appear to suggest that there is the demand for such a venture and I hope to see it become a reality.
Andy Vale, a Guildford resident who is ‘just a Joe who likes a good film’

Crazy about alternative film...
“Guildford has nightclubs for the young, interesting theatre and some classical music, but what it lacks is a venue showing interesting non-mainstream films. The Picture Palace would offer that, as well as a lively meeting place. Too bad that the Borough Council were unwilling to let Mark have the lease of Thorpe’s old bookshop. It would have been ideal. Recently, I have been driving to Reigate to see French films. The cinema is packed, just as Mark’s film evenings at Guildford Institute have been.”
Alison Craze, a regular at Mark Gudgin’s Guildford Institute film nights

Making a night of it...
“When I first read about plans for an art house cinema in Guildford, I was very pleased and excited about the proposals. We have two young children, so getting out is a treat. We both love the cinema but these days find the mainstream cinema expensive, and in some ways a bit of a let-down. The picture palace would allow more choice in the films one can see. Being able to see older films, foreign and art house films is something I used to hugely enjoy when living in London. I love the idea of making the cinema the night out, with food and drinks in a relaxed atmosphere, and believe many people in Guildford feel the same, as shown by the significant following the plans have generated.”
John Dabill, a Merrow resident who has yet to make one of the film events

Something different…
In a town centre mainly devoted to chain stores and already with a multiplex cinema, it would provide a unique entertainment venue for a mix of age groups - from young people to pensioners; as the film nights at Guildford Institute already have done. If sited in the former Thorpe's Bookshop premises it would revive the tradition of a picture palace on that site; it would fulfil a demand for alternative films (also combined with eating and drinking, as the popularity of the annual Yvonne Arnaud Theatre’s summer film season has proven); I could go on and on and on!
Jane Cork, a Guildford resident and a regular at Mark Gudgin’s Guildford Institute film nights

A cultural hub...
“Guildford is, or should be, a cultural centre for Surrey. The council recognises this with the Electric Theatre and the new Civic Hall but an independent cinema, showing good quality and varied films from around the world regularly, is an essential part of the mix. The support for the film nights at the Guildford Institute clearly demonstrates the need. This need is not being met by council or other commercial provision. A significant number of people in Surrey want thoughtful films; films to engage with, offering different perspectives from other cultures, and films to enjoy.”
David Potter, a Guildford film fan

The missing link…
An independent cinema in Guildford would be fantastic, especially if it had a café/bar. It would be like having our own mini-British Film Institute without having to travel up to London to enjoy independent film in a quality venue. It astounds me that somewhere like Guildford with its demographic does not have such a facility. Thinking more widely I also think it would benefit the tourist industry in Guildford as it would provide entertainment for people who would rather see independent/art house film than mainstream films.
Sally Tarrant, a Haslemere resident who would love to see an independent cinema in our county town

Generation games...
Firstly, there are many film enthusiasts like me (of my generation particularly: over 40s) who appreciate films, which are not available to see in mainstream cinema. We do have foreign film festivals periodically in Guildford, but there is no venue, which is dedicated entirely to film. Guildford Picture Palace would be perfectly placed in Constitutional Hall aka 170 High Street, as it was the first cinema to be opened in Guildford 1909. Guildford is full of retail outlets and restaurants/cafes and there's nothing on the High Street which attracts visitors for alternative entertainment. I think it would be a fantastic addition.
Denise Hilton, a Guildford resident and film enthusiast

An enterprising entertainment centre…
Guildford is purported to be a major entertainment centre for the south-east. However, at the moment film lovers have little opportunity to see anything other than the blockbusters showing at the Odeon cinema. The film festivals held at the Electric Theatre and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre are excellent but amount to three or four weeks a year. Mark Gudgin's enterprising venture of a monthly film club at the Guildford Institute, offering the opportunity to see and discuss films, has been enthusiastically embraced by filmgoers but as yet the council seems unwilling to give this new initiative the chance to become a permanent feature of Guildford's cultural scene and prefers instead yet another fashion outlet. Roll on the day when we can all enjoy an additional choice of entertainment in our town.
Sonya Hinton, a Guildford-based film lover

Beats popcorn…
It's a great idea to have a meal before the film and a glass of wine (or whatever) whilst watching. It definitely adds another dimension to viewing - it's far more of a night out then you average trip to the cinema, plus you get to share views on the films in the interval. If there was a permanent venue people would have more choice than just the films the Odeon shows. Personally, I think it's great to have the opportunity to watch some foreign and less mainstream films.  
Anna Rotheisen, a Guildford resident who has been to the film nights

…and the official view
“We have been aware of Mr Gudgin’s interest in the property during the last two years and met with him to discuss his application on several occasions. We have welcomed his proposal to have a restaurant and bar facility, which also shows films, and when considering a new tenant for the property his proposal was given comprehensive and careful consideration. The selection process was rigorous and objective, based on a number of criteria including the ability to deliver the proposed use for the building, the tenant’s financial track record and commercial standing and the wider benefit of the use for the town as a whole. There were four applications and the decision was made by an evaluation panel of councillors. We wish Mr Gudgin every success in his search for a suitable venue for his enterprise”.
Cllr Nigel Manning, Guildford Borough Council’s lead councillor for procurement and projects


Does your Surrey town already have a similar facility and would you travel to visit a new one? Let us know what you think of the proposal for a Guildford Picture Palace below or by e-mailing

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