Euan McGregor brings back kids' Saturday cinema

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The innocent thrills of Saturday morning cinema clubs for children are being revived - thanks to an icon of grown-up movies.

The innocent thrills of Saturday morning cinema clubs for children are being revived - thanks to an icon of grown-up movies.

Euan McGregor made his name as a junkie in Trainspotting, then joined the ultimate blockbuster franchise with a lead role in the Star Wars series. But now he is championing the screening of classic, smaller-budget and European movies for children.

The millionaire actor's wife, Eve, says merchandising campaigns such as the one behind Star Wars "turn children into buying machines". So she has organised alternatives to be shown in a series of six-week seasons at the Everyman cinema in Hampstead, north London, near their home. The plan is for a national network of cinema clubs to follow.

Their aim will be to recapture the magic of the golden age before television, when pre-teens would swarm down to the local picture house for slapstick and shoot-outs every Saturday morning.

The first season at the Everyman began yesterday, just days after the veteran actor and director Lord Attenborough made a public call for the return of Saturday morning screenings for children.

The fifth National Schools Film Week, Britain's largest free film festival for children, started on Friday. Launching it, the star of Brighton Rock and director of Gandhi condemned the "quite awful degree and extent of violence and confrontation" in modern films.

Instead, youngsters should be given the chance to see films that encouraged them to learn of new cultures, and inspirational stories of people who had changed the way the world thought, he said.

Eve and Euan McGregor have a daughter, Clara, who is four. "I've always felt very frustrated not being able to show her films which I feel are different and interesting from the usual big Disney productions," said Eve, a film-set designer who worked on the violent British gangland hit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. "We want her to see projected old films - classics, the black and whites. Films which will widen her horizons, open her up to the world, make her a better person."

Among those films to be shown at the Everyman are the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Thief of Bagdad from 1940. More modern releases will include The Iron Giant and James and the Giant Peach. There will also be a series of workshops designed to get children to think about what they are watching.

Euan McGregor will host some of the sessions with his partners in production company Natural Nylon - the actors Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Sean Pertwee and Jonny Lee Miller.

Their campaign came as good news down at the Ritzy in Brixton, south London, one of the few remaining independent cinemas to have kept the spirit of the old Saturday morning clubs alive. Though the number of children attending has fallen dramatically over the years, the Ritzy Kids Club has experienced a recent revival.

Special events held to celebrate the anniversary of the cinema's refurbishment last month attracted crowds of up to 300. Attractions included face painting, Chicken Run plasticine modelling, and a special effects workshop.

In the next few weeks the programme will include The Secret Garden, a Wallace and Gromit triple bill, and a special Halloween showing for which the audience will be invited to wear scary costume. Whatever the film, entrance costs £1.

Inside cinema two yesterday the young audience was transfixed by The Flintstones in Las Vegas. Laura Noble, from West Dulwich, London, was there with a large number of friends and relatives to celebrate her eighth birthday. "I love coming here, it's exciting," she said. "Better than watching films at home. The screen is bigger, it's louder, and there are loads of other people."

"And it's dark," said her seven-year-old friend, Katrina Mitchell, giggling. "I like that."

Liz Greenway had brought her two sons and a friend. "They can have a really good time here on a wet weekend. It's the whole popcorn thing, sitting in a row with your mates having a laugh." Her younger son, Judd Jeary, seven, was clear about his favourite film: "The one with all that sticky stuff - Flubber!" But Judd could not identify Charlie Chaplin from a photograph, but then neither could any other children. Their parents failed to recognise a shot of Harold Lloyd. But as mum scratched her head and imitated Stan Laurel, Judd worked out who the fat man in the bowler next to him was: "Oh, I know it!" he announced, excited. "It's Oliver... Twist."

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