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In an age of impersonal identical multiplexes that are the same the world over, it’s a treat to find British cinema traditions still continuing …

…mostly through the efforts of enthusiasts, public donations and volunteers. Is the Rex in the little market town of Wareham, Dorset one such gem?


Here you can catch the latest blockbusters, but they screen all sorts of old films too and sometimes that means a break while they change the reel. Built in the 1880s, the building was used for all kinds of touring entertainment but became The Empire Cinema in 1920. In 1927, it screened the first talkie and acquired the nickname of The Fleapit (although this was an expression used to describe most cinemas at the time).  It was run successfully until the 1960s, and the local film fans rallied around when closure was threatened. This ensured that the 130-seater cinema kept its Art Deco looks, although restoration and modern safety standards have forced some changes. It’s famous for its original gas lamps hanging along the auditorium.


Changing its name to the Rex, the cinema was run as a charity supported by the local Purbeck District Council, Friends of The Rex and the Rex Players. With the help of Viridor and public donations, it was acquired by the Purbeck Film Charitable Trust in 2007.

Now it’s run like any other cinema. In May 2014, it is screening Noah, Half a Yellow Sun, The Double, Calvary, The Past, Muppets Most Wanted, Yves St Laurent and Exit through the Gift Shop.

Is the Rex the best of British because it not only still exists, but also delivers the latest films to an eager local audience? In nearby Poole and Bournemouth, there are several multiplexes playing the same films on bigger screens and yet the doughty little Rex is still packing them in. Is it because the people that run the Rex are known by name rather than by a badge? There’s a personal touch about every aspect of the place. Is it because you can take your drink into the auditorium? You can’t do that in a multiplex – usually because they don’t serve booze.  However the Rex Bar is open for only 45 minutes before each performance – a place filled with images recalling the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s hey-day. The Rex also hosts the Purbeck Film Festival, which was established three years ago, welcoming entries from all over the world as well as celebrating local film talent.  It’s a warm friendly festival and worth an entry. If you get selected, your film is shown in this little gem of a cinema, packed to the rafters with film fans. There are other great original cinemas like the Dome in Worthing.


Yet surely the Rex in Wareham is king because it is run by people who love film and love their cinema. It’s totally unique and possibly the best of British cinemas. Unless you know otherwise. The Rex: http://www.therex.co.uk/ Purbeck Film Festival:  http://www.purbeckfilm.com/ Cinema Treasures: http://cinematreasures.org/

Posted on May 12, 2014

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