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Movies flicker for 105 years at The Electric, Britain’s oldest movie theater

The Electric Cinema is a landmark in central Birmingham.
The Electric Cinema

The Electric Cinema began showing movies in late December 1909, and today it’s the oldest working movie theater in Britain. The theater celebrates its 105th anniversary in 2014.

The Electric Cinema was once one of more than 100 movie theaters in the central city of Birmingham, but today is one of the few independent cinemas left. It’s a landmark at 47-49 Station St., yet its plain white façade doesn’t reveal the cinematic excitement inside.

Britain’s oldest movie theater has been updated with plush seats and sofas in the back of each of its two theaters. Theatergoers can settle into the sofas and text their orders for snacks and drinks to the wait staff, who’ll deliver the goods sofaside. There’s no popcorn, but locally baked cakes, sweets and savories.

The Electric has the original screening space, which has a 35 mm projector. Upstairs, a second screen was added, and it has been updated for digital HD with Dolby surround sound.

A century+ of flashing images at Britain’s oldest movie theater

It’s said that The Electric building began as a cab depot, then a motor garage, before its 1909 transformation into a movie house. Here are some other highlights in Electric Cinema history:

  • Dec. 30, 1909: The Electric Cinema screens its first film
  • 1922: Renamed “Select Cinema”
  • Nov. 14, 1931: The theater closes and become an amusement arcade
  • 1937: Owners add an upstairs gallery, now Screen 2, and the building becomes the 399-seat Tatler News Theatre
  • 1970: The theater becomes “The Jacey”
  • 1980: The name is changed to “Classic”
  • 1984: The names changes to “Tivoli” and the films to soft porn and horror
  • 1993: The name is returned to The Electric and the cinema becomes a two-screen repertory theater
  • 2004: Thomas Lawes Media Ltd. buys the Electric and makes it a center for filmmaking and exhibition.

Adult beverages for every film at the Electric Cinema

Today, The Electric shows the best in independent and mainstream films. And moviegoers can match their beverages to the film. Watching Harry Potter? Enjoy a Butter Beer. Wrapped up in “Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”? Then bring on a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

And when it’s time for Bond, James Bond, on the silver screen, text an order for a vodka martini mixed exactly as described in Ian Fleming’s books.

Once-banned absinthe flows in Britain’s oldest movie theater

There’s one drink, though, that’s uncommon in theaters anywhere in the world. The Electric Cinema serves Parisian La Fee Absinthe from the traditional fountain.

Absinthe is a highly alcoholic distilled drink made from herbs and grand wormwood. Van Gogh and Lautrec drank it in Paris, and Hemingway loved it in his favorite cocktail, Death in the Afternoon.

The green drink, which turns cloudy with the addition of sugar and water, was a European favorite until it was banned in the early 1900s in Belgium, Switzerland and France. The new La Fee was created in 1998. The quirky green drink adds a certain joie de vivre to a night at the Electric Cinema.

When you go

For the latest on screen at the Electric Cinema. For more information on Birmingham and Britain.