THE WELLESLEY Cinema in Wellington celebrated its 85th birthday this month.
The cinema is a big part of the town history and is still enjoyed today by many locals.
Wellesley Cinema first opened in July of 1937 with the first film ever shown being Dimples, starring Shirley Temple. With just under 500 seats, the cinema is relatively unchanged from its original layout still using the circle (balcony) and stalls method of seating as was so popular at the time.
In the 1950s, stage facilities were added allowing stage productions to take place. To this day between two and three productions take place at the Wellesley and prove very popular with the town.
Since its opening the cinema has shown tens of thousands of films. Merlin Cinemas have run it since 2016 and have played over 1,000 films since then even with the almost two year Covid-19 lockdown.
Soe of the top films shown at the cinema include Gone With The Wind, The Sound Of Music, Fatal Attraction, Star Wars, Jaws, Titanic and more recently the latest Bond film No Time To Die.
Group operations manager Alex Jones spoke to the Wellington Weekly about the community spirit surrounding the Wellesley he said: “Many people feel that it is ‘their’ cinema as it has been part of the community for a lifetime.The families and older generations love it.
“The young adults may think it’s a bit old fashioned but, as soon as they have their own families, they rush to show their children the cinema of their youth and the Wellesley suddenly becomes “traditional” to them, no longer “old fashioned”. To go and see films or shows communally on stage and on the big screen, and at a huge theatre like Wellesley, it simply can’t be topped.”
With the Covid restrictions now over and many businesses back to normal operations the cinema is now recovering.
Alex said: “Covid restrictions came at a time when business levels were bigger than they had been since the late 1960s. For now the recovery is building back audiences to those levels before any further changes to the cinema can take place. We have thought about plusher seats for the circle, ones which might encourage audiences to pay a premium for. For now we are constantly redecorating and maintaining the lovely building.”
With the popularity of streaming services during the pandemic there has also been an uneasy feeling that cinemas may be dying out however, Alex believes that the cinema experience can never be replaced.
He said: “It didn’t help much that, many films were being streamed at home at the same time that they were on at the cinema.
“That’s ended now and cinema has the new films “exclusive again”.
“The James Bond film No Time To Die played to regular full houses by the end of September and since then some regular big attendances have returned, especially with Spider-Man No Way Home, Sing 2 and most recently Top Gun Maverick.
“We are starting to see big audiences return for the popular streaming service onto the big screen from The national Theatre and Royal Opera House, and the local pantomime and operatic society both had successful returns to the Wellesley stage this year after a three-year hiatus.”
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