Hollywood Star Pays Tribute to Tiny Cinema’s Closing Scene

icWales, 25 February 2008
By Robin Turner

A touch of Hollywood glamour was brought to a quiet Welsh street at the weekend when one of the smallest cinemas in the world closed its doors for the last time. Hollywood actor and film director Kenneth Branagh walked up the red carpet for the final film at La Charrette, the cinema housed in an old railway wagon in Gorseinon, Swansea.

The tiny, 23-seat cinema hosted a world premiere to bow out with acclaimed director Danny Boyle’s highly rated "Alien Love Triangle".

Branagh, who stars in the film with ex-'Friends' star Courteney Cox, said, "This is fantastic. It is a romantic idea and a symbol for why people go to the cinema." Walking into the atmospheric cinema, the Belfast-born star said, "This is like the street I grew up on, so I feel completely at home."

Branagh, who wore a tuxedo for the event and was sporting a moustache, described "Alien Love Triangle" as a "lost film" by one of "our greatest directors". He added, "After 10 years and having seen an uncompleted version of it, I’m slightly nervous about it. I hope people like it. I hope the rest of the world gets to see it."

Saturday night’s premiere and La Charrette’s finale, which was a black tie affair, was put together by BBC2 film critic Mark Kermode. He learned of the venue’s closure when it was featured on the BBC’s 'The Culture Show' and was eager to ensure it had a fitting send off.

The film sees Branagh play a physics lecturer who rushes home to tell his wife, played by Courteney Cox, he has perfected his dream of teleportation. She tops his news, however, with the revelation that she is in fact a male alien disguised as a female human.

After contacting all of the UK’s major film distributors and sending them pictures of La Charrette, Mr Kermode said he received offers of several upcoming movies to bring down the final curtain. But he decided to ask "Alien Love Triangle"’s producer Andrew Macdonald for the film because he wanted "something special, something unique, something unattainable".

The unlikely cinema venue was built by the late film projectionist and Gorseinon electrician Gwyn Phillips. He had a dream of owning his own cinema after failing to get in to see "Tarzan", starring Johnny Weissmuller, at his local cinema The Lido, in 1942. The doorman told him there were not enough seats.

Later he would establish his first cinema in a redundant coal shed. Then, in 1955 he bought an old railway wagon – La Charrette is French for wagon – and so began the story of one of the world’s smallest cinemas. It was only pipped in the "world’s smallest" list by a Nottingham cinema which has 21 seats and The Terrace Theatre in Tinonee, Australia, which has 22.

But, after 53 years, La Charette has become too costly to maintain, because of its crumbling structure. Mr Phillips’s family and friends, who carried on running the cinema after his death, have had to admit defeat to rotting timbers, advancing rust and a leaking roof. Ron Williams, the chairman of La Charrette said, "We decided we had to close it before it collapsed all around us."

Many locals who used the cinema are sad to see it go. Barbara Rees, of Gorseinon, who did her courting at the cinema, said, "When I started having boyfriends I went to see Gwyn’s films. If the picture got a bit boring I would concentrate on the boyfriend but if the picture was interesting I’d concentrate on the picture."

David and Margo Lewis have been regulars at La Charrette for decades. Mr Lewis said, "I don’t think we’ve been to another cinema in Britain in 30 years – we get all we want here."

The event was organised by and filmed for The Culture Show and will be screened on BBC2 on Saturday, 1 March.

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