Jai Ho! 'Slumdog' comes to 'Emmerdale' country

A Slice of Britain: North Yorkshire locals flock from miles around to see Danny Boyle's Mumbai tale at a hi-tech cinema set up in picturesque Arncliffe's village hall. It's all thanks to the UK Film Council – itself now a victim of the cuts
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The North Yorkshire village of Arncliffe has many virtues: picturesque buildings, a traditional pub and rolling hills so postcard-perfect that for years it was the location for ITV's soap opera Emmerdale Farm. A multiplex cinema, though, is not one of them.

In fact, there can be few places in the world less likely to boast a state-of-the-art cinema than here. Yet, as I visit, its traditional limestone village hall has been turned into exactly that for a screening of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire.

The village is one of several across Wiltshire, Shropshire and Yorkshire chosen for a mobile cinema scheme launched this month by the UK Film Council. In the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, Arncliffe is among the furthest villages from a cinema in England.

Richard Harland, 90, has driven here with his wife Elma, 82, from nearby Grassington. His freshly combed shock of white hair suggests the outing may be something of a special occasion. "Going out to the flicks is quite a different experience to watching the telly," he says, smiling enthusiastically. "It's a social occasion. I can't think when it was we last went. The road up from Grassington is very puddly at the minute, but that's better than snow. We don't get out very often unless it's something pretty exciting because it's quite an effort. There's no public transport up here."

Until now the nearest cinema was in Skipton, some 20 miles away. And that's not 20 miles of smooth, wide Tarmac, but mile upon mile of windy, dry-stone-walled, single-track lanes. That may be a trek, but with just 62 people in the village and 220 in the wider valley of Littondale, you can see why Odeon isn't jumping at the chance to expand here.

The Harlands are two of around 45 people from the valley sitting on rows of stackable chairs chatting over the strains of "Jai Ho", the film's signature tune.

The scheme means villages and remote towns can rent professional cinema equipment at a subsidised rate, allowing them to charge a small fee and, hopefully, raise money for the venue.

The results are impressive. One half of the hall is dominated by an enormous screen on stilts, several metres wide. Next to it are two oversized speakers that wouldn't look (or sound) out of place in a nightclub. Standing at the front, volunteers with baskets strapped round their necks are selling tubs of Yorkshire ice cream.

Jennie Routley, 30, known in the valley as Badger, has a particular reason to be grateful for this cinema. "I have Tourette's and I haven't been out to see a grown-up film since Titanic came out, and that's probably '97. I'm always too scared of annoying people or getting kicked out for making noise. Here everyone knows me and nobody will care."

Robin Miller, 68, is sitting near the back. He has been landlord of the village's only pub, the Falcon, since the Seventies, and is struggling to remember the last time he made it out for a film. "Oh 'eck, I really don't know", he says, "10 years? Maybe more? They're not exactly nearby and I've lived here most of my life."

The lights go down and soon everyone is transported more than 4,000 miles away to scenes of children scrambling through the crowded Juhu slums of Mumbai.

Or at least, most people are. About 40 minutes into the film, once loud chase scenes have been replaced by more subdued dialogue, Mr Miller has given his verdict. Head tilted back, mouth cavernously ajar, what begins as a telltale whistle has now become a full-throttle snore. A boy in the row in front starts giggling and it soon spreads. Soon half of the room is more entertained by Mr Miller's snores than anything of Danny Boyle's creation.

Then, as if by clockwork, the snores stop. At five to nine exactly, he adjusts his thick brown glasses, straightens his tweed coat and heads out the door. The film has an hour more to go but he's off to to open up his pub in time for the nine o'clock winter start.

As the hall lights go up, and the sound system is replaced by chatter and the noise of people humming "Jai Ho" to themselves in various keys, what seems like half the village get to work in the kitchen. In keeping with the Indian theme they are serving steaming bowls of home-cooked curry, along with slightly more Yorkshire pints of ale.

Meanwhile, back at the Falcon, Mr Miller gives his verdict on the film, or what he saw of it: "It were all right," he nods, getting up from his spot by the fire to fetch more ale for his four customers. Word has already spread about his snoring and he's taking it in good humour. "Was that you making that awful racket?" he asks, laughing.

For Kate Beard, 38, one of the village volunteers running the project, the night has been a success. "It was brilliant!" she says, as she gathers up the mountain of washing up in the hall's kitchen. "It really brought everyone together."

Her happiness is short-lived, however, as she considers the prospect that their new cinema could be over almost as soon as it began. The project is already under threat, thanks to the abolition of the UKFC under new government budgets. Money has been set aside for the pilot for the next three years, but it will be a fight to keep anything running after that.

"God knows what will happen now the Film Council is going. I hope we'll be able to carry it on. These days everyone is so knackered after work that they just go home and watch a DVD. I think villages are in danger of going the same way as cities: our primary school is closing and hardly anyone goes to church. Without schemes like this, soon we just won't know who our neighbours are."