Phoenix patron Palin hopes cinema doesn’t lose its ‘charm and independence’ in takeover

Phoenix Cinema East Finchley

Phoenix Cinema East Finchley - Credit: Polly Hancock

The world-famous Monty Python and travel documentary star Michael Palin has said he hopes the Phoenix doesn’t lose “its particular charm and independence” when it’s taken over by Curzon Cinemas.

Speaking to the Ham&High, Mr Palin said he had returned from promoting his new book on the Erebus ship to hear the news that Curzon would be taking over the legendary indie screen.

The actor and presenter, who lives in Gospel Oak, is a patron of the cinema. He said he would be “very sorry to see the Phoenix lose its particular charm and independence”.

If the plans, which have been agreed, are finalised, Curzon will take over on November 1. The venue will be renamed the Curzon Phoenix Cinema East Finchley. The picture house opened in 1912 and is London’s oldest continuously-running cinema.

Under the deal, Curzon would take over the ticketing side of the cinema, while the Phoenix Cinema Trust would retain the freehold. Talks about the takeover have been under way for several months.

Michael Palin. Picture: Matt Crossick

Michael Palin. Picture: Matt Crossick - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

According to chair of the Phoenix Cinema Trust, James Kessler QC, the move will “secure the Phoenix’s long term future”.

“Curzon shares our vision and is the perfect team to deliver the Phoenix’s objects of promoting the art of film and maintaining our unique historic building.”

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Curzon has said it wants to “maintain [the cinema’s] iconic status as a focal point of the local community, build on the current programme and potentially invest in facilities there”.

According to accounts registered with Companies House, the Phoenix has been losing money since 2013. Its latest available accounts, filed in March 2017, show the cinema having lost more than £50,000 between 2016 and 2017, and being £596,652 in the black.

Curzon met staff a week ago (Thu) about the move, but told this newspaper it cannot confirm whether jobs will be lost or created at the cinema.

Cinemagoers the Ham&High spoke to outside the cinema in High Road on Friday asked why the business hadn’t been more forthcoming if there were financial problems.

Jane Atkinson, who lives in Highgate, is a friend of the cinema. For a one-off payment, friends get free tickets, discounts and access to special events.

She said: “If it is for financial reasons, there have been no notices or fundraising. It’s one thing putting on a brave face, but if they need money they need to come clean.”

She also believes friends should have been consulted on the plans, a view she shares with the Save The Phoenix campaign group.

A spokesperson said: “There are alternative ways of securing the long-term future of the Phoenix, including fundraising.

“In 2010, the Phoenix raised over £1,000,000 for a massive restoration project on its centenary. Rather than building on this, fundraising has been limited.

“We are calling on the board to pause, listen to the community, and make sure they have exhausted all other options before going down this extreme path.”

It has also spoke of its worry that the cinema could lose its identity if taken over by a national chain.

More than 3,200 people have signed the anonymous campaign group’s petition against the takeover.

Other film lovers in East Finchley shared their affection for the venue, and concerns that a chain taking it over would mean changes to the venue.

“It’s a bit of a shame,” said Diana Ware. “I love this place. It is like sitting in your living room. We worry that they’re going to modernise and you’ll lose some of the character.

“They always show a really wide range of films, and I fear that wouldn’t happen any more. It’ll be a shame if it’s no longer independent.”

Ms Atkinson, who said the cinema is on her commute home from work in North Finchley, said its independence means she enjoys the “varieties of films they can show during the week. It is really a fabulous cinema and venue to come and watch film, and national theatre.”

Curzon Cinemas, which runs 12 cinemas across the UK, has confirmed it is committed to keeping the current programme of events. A spokesperson also said it would “engage further [with staff] as and when needed during the process.

“This is a partnership between us and the Phoenix Cinema Trust. We are being asked to run the cinema on their behalf. We understand the concerns of the local community, but Curzon is not a big chain making a takeover. We are an independent cinema company with a similar ethos.”