Curzon Picturehouse

Source: Screen file

Curzon, Picturehouse Finsbury Park

UK arthouse cinema chain Curzon, owned by the US-based Cohen Media Group, is understood to be interested in acquiring Picturehouse Cinemas from present owner Cineworld or from whomever may buy the financially beleaguered company whose assets are up for sale.

Picturehouse “would be a great addition to Curzon,” Curzon CEO Philip Knatchbull told Screen this week, when asked if Curzon was in the mix to buy the rival boutique chain.

Philip Knatchbull

Source: Curzon

Philip Knatchbull

“Anyone of any sensible nature who believes in cinema can see that the advantage of having Picturehouse Cinemas as part of their group is that, outside Cineworld, [Picturehouse] will be able to go back to being more independent and more entrepreneurial in the way they approach their marketing. I am sure there are many other people who think Picturehouse will be a great capture.” 

Several potential buyers are circling Picturehouse. Earlier this month, it was reported Trafalgar Releasing’s Lyn Goleby, who co-founded Picturehouse with Tony Jones, was in talks with potential Cineworld suitor Vue International to re-acquire the indie arthouse chain. However, she may now be hampered by Vue’s stalled efforts to merge with the Cineworld chain.

Lyn Goleby

Source: Screen Summit 2015

Lyn Goleby

Goleby declined to comment specifically on her plans. “I don’t think speculation around Picturehouse helps the price of bread so I’m just hoping [Cineworld] comes through the Chapter 11 processes intact and fighting fit,” she told Screen.

“In theory, if Lyn bought [Picturehouse] back, that sounds great,” said a leading independent UK distributor. “Lyn knows the business. She has had tremendous success with Trafalgar…now she would get all these beautiful properties that she didn’t have before, like Picturehouse Central. It can only be a good thing.”

Cineworld, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US last summer.

The company announced it had received “non-binding proposals from a number of potential transaction counterparties for some or all of the Group’s business”, on February 24. “None of these proposals involves an all-cash bid for the entire business.”

Cineworld has to present a plan to its creditors by April 10.

Vue, whose chief executive is Tim Richards, also chair of the British Film Institute, declined to comment specifically on any potential acquisition of Cineworld. However, Eduardo Leal, group regional director of content at Vue International, was optimistic about the overall health of the exhibition sector.

“We are preparing for a new golden age of cinema,” he said. “The studios are all very, very committed to theatrical. We can take advantage of working with the streamers as well as we have done for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and Matilda, both of which were Netflix productions and delivered really strong [theatrical] performances. We were disappointed that All Quiet On The Western Front didn’t get a material theatrical release but obviously it’s easy to say that in hindsight.”

Curzon’s Knatchbull was more circumspect.

“What we have now is as seismic as the television revolution was in the 1950s. It isn’t just the pandemic that is causing the problem. There is a whole change in the ecosystem in the way films are released and distributed. That, in my opinion, has meant we have lost about 20% of the admissions, probably forever,” he said. 

Nonetheless, Curzon is continuing to invest in cinema sites. Knatchbull gave further details of Curzon’s ambitious new flagship venue on the King’s Road in Chelsea, west London, close to where the old Chelsea Cinema was based. “It will be one of the largest underground cinemas ever built in the middle of one of the greatest cities in the world, 20,000 sq ft,” he said of the new venue. It will have one 300-400 seat cinema as well as four other screens, two bars and “maybe a restaurant.” 

Knatchbull denied reports another flagship venue, the Curzon Mayfair, is set to close next year. Instead, he confirmed Curzon is seeking “another long-term lease so we can invest in the building and continue on.”