PeckhamPlex is, naturally, found in Peckham, an unlovely but lively London neighbourhood still struggling to shake off its unmerited reputation as a hive of gang violence and the home of Del Boy Trotter. Though the edges may admittedly be scruffy, there is a vibrant, buoyant local community, and the cinema – one of the few wholly independent multiplexes in the country – is a gleaming beacon to that community spirit.
Nestled between a train station and a multi-storey car park (which, in a sign of the area’s ongoing gentrification, doubles as a rooftop bar and art space in the summer), the purpose-built premises opened in 1994 on the site of an old supermarket, and has been going ever since. As with most of its multiplex brethren, sticky carpets and greasy overpriced snacks are par for the course, but these minor quibbles are easily forgiven, given the £4.99 ticket price – probably the cheapest in London.
With such a wallet-friendly pricing strategy, the PeckhamPlex attracts the full gamut of thrifty film fans, from local residents to penniless art students from the nearby Goldsmiths College. There’s also a chance you will also rub shoulders with a few local celebs – recently anointed national treasure Olivia Colman is a regular.
The usual blockbusting fare dominates, but since new owners took the reins in 2010, the cinema has committed to screening at least one one “independent, art-house or foreign language film” a week. There’s also regular special screenings, film-maker Q&As (Ken Loach and Penny Woolcock have taken the stage in the past), and local events like the Peckham & Nunhead Free film festival.
In many ways, PeckhamPlex is Peckham in microcosm: it ain’t pretty on the surface, but those who know it cherish it dearly. Playing an enthusiastic community role, it’s a paragon of what indie cinemas can achieve when unshackled from the corporate chains. And who can argue at a fiver a pop?
First appeared in The Guardian, June 2013.