Peter Knight steps through the doors of the newly reopened Odeon Luxe Leicester Square and discovers a breath-taking refurbishment that marries technology and heritage.
The golden age of cinema is back” — it’s a bold marketing claim for the reborn Odeon Leicester Square cinema. The site reopened to much fanfare in December 2018 after an 11 month multi-million pound refit, with the promise that the audience will receive the ultimate cinema experience. Whether you remember this flagship site of old or are yet to visit, you can certainly see where the money has been spent — it has been a root and branch transformation.
A door into a new world
The first thing any visitor will notice now is that the cinema commissionaire has made a welcome return – yes, a real person on the door, dressed in hat and coat, to welcome every audience member to answer any questions, and to wish them good night as they leave. Such details matter.
Speaking of details, many will remember Odeon clocks of old and their specific design. While it may not be a real one, in a nod to the past, there is now a projected version on the wall of the Art Deco-styled foyer. A nice touch and — in a further nod to the past — the doors to the auditoria have engraved into them titles of some of the 700 or so premieres of landmark films of the past that have taken place here over the years. Cinephiles welcome here, clearly.
In come the luxe recliners
Step inside the première auditorium and one of the most obvious changes is that the seat count has shrunk from 1,200 to 800 to allow for luxe recliners that have been installed throughout. More than 350 of these are powered recliners that offer impressive legroom and tray tables. It’s a familiar strategy being adopted worldwide. Here it is well-executed — these are highly comfortable, in fact far too comfortable if the film you’re watching is a little slow. There are four more screens, with luxury seating for a further 153 cinemagoers in more intimate surroundings.
Keeping with the Art Deco vibe, the cinema’s famous Compton organ that used to provide a musical backdrop in the era of silent movies still features on special occasions, such as at royal premieres when the national anthem is played. The organ has been on site since 1937, when Oscar Deutsch, Odeon’s founder, insisted the cinema had the largest, most impressive instrument in the UK. Nicknamed “The Duchess”, five keyboards control its 1,400 pipes, and it sits on a rising platform in the centre of the orchestra pit. You wouldn’t throw that kind of heritage out to make way for new technology, no matter how spectacular. Similar details have been retained in the form of the original safety curtain design complete with the famous “Flying Ladies figures”, restored to their former glory by its sides.
The interior makeover transforms the cinema into a stunning entertainment venue. A bespoke lift and escalators improve access and enhance the contemporary design. The building’s famous heritage features have been restored and retained and a breath-taking mirror wall created for the digital age. As befits a proper West End venue, the opulent new Oscar’s Bar serves guests champagne and cocktails with views across the razzamatazz of Leicester Square, thanks to a bespoke new glass-enclosed balcony.
Often with refurbishments, technology in the background plays second fiddle and remains more or less the same. In the case of the Odeon Leicester Square, all-new projection equipment is as much a part of the experience as everything else. The OLS is the first public cinema in the UK to have a Dolby Cinema installed. This technology has featured in Cinema Technology previously, but it is the first time the public has been able to experience it in the heart of the West End. The Leicester Square site is the first of seven new Dolby Cinemas Odeon will be opening in the UK.
From a technological perspective, what you can’t see is as impressive as what you can. You can’t help but notice that low light reflectivity was the designers’ priority. Dark tones are everywhere from the carpets to the ceiling, all of which ensure nothing interferes with images on screen.
This isolation is extended to the wall behind Screen 1 separating the hotel next door from the auditorium. Nothing’s getting through that to disturb the viewing, just as you wouldn’t notice 10 miles of cable run in the ceiling above to supply an array of 400 speakers that deliver ATMOS sound to every viewer. No fewer than 100 of these are behind the screen which is light by Christie dual laser projectors delivering the promise of a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio that is the hallmark of Dolby Vision.
A souvenir worth keeping
In the days of Cinerama, cinemagoers would receive a programme for films they attended. At more recent special screenings such as “The Hateful 8” in 70mm there have been programmes too, so it was pleasing to see, during the opening events, a souvenir programme that gave a history of the cinema, of Oscar Deutsch and an explanation of what Dolby Cinema brings to the show. Touches like this and the commissionaire, the sparkle of refurbished Art Deco details, the glitz of Oscar’s Bar and the impact of the projection, all make you feel that showmanship is back in town.
Odeon Luxe Leicester Square (as it is formally known) is the flagship for AMC’s Odeon Cinemas Group. It really does feel as if the site has been reborn. It presents a fantastic mix of the classic picture palace combined with the, audio and visual punch of the latest technology. The team at Odeon should be congratulated for the enormous effort that has gone into this stunning transformation.