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Pompeii exhibit to be disaster movie of the summer

British Museum show joins growing trend for major exhibitions to be streamed in cinemas

Live streaming in cinemas has been one of the great arts success stories of recent years. From Puccini's La Bohème at the Royal Opera House to the National Theatre's Frankenstein, audiences have flocked to see showpiece productions beamed directly into their local multiplexes and independent screens.

But these shows had music, dramatic dialogue and, in Frankenstein's case, Benedict Cumberbatch, to tempt people to the box offices. A more unlikely summer blockbuster is about to make film stars of ancient-history scholars and pieces of pottery.

London's venerable British Museum is making its first foray into the world of live streaming with a private view for cinema audiences of its forthcoming exhibition, "Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum".

On 18 June, scholars including Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University, will guide audiences in darkened screening rooms around the country through the exhibition, which brings together 250 treasures from the cities destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. They include recently discovered pottery and ivory panels and the fresco of Flora, the goddess of flowers, as well as the casts of six residents who died in the disaster. The museum has signed deals with Vue, Odeon and Picturehouse cinemas to screen the event live, with a another live event the following day for schoolchildren.

Audiences will be welcomed to the exhibition by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, and then taken arounds by experts including the show's curator, Paul Roberts.

Other contributors include the historian Bettany Hughes who will tell the story of the cities through surviving objects, while Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli and gardener Rachel de Thame will shed insight on the everyday life of residents.

In bringing us Pompeii: the Movie, the British Museum hopes it can get in early on a nascent and potentially lucrative trend in bringing exhibitions to life in cinemas, which began when the National Gallery invited in cameras for its 2011 show, "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan".

That live stream was the brainchild of the documentary maker Phil Grabsky and played to 98 per cent capacity when it was shown in 41 Picturehouse cinemas.

The 90-minute production was later screened in 1,000 international cinemas.

Mr Grabsky is now editing his film of the major Manet exhibition that opened last month at the Royal Academy, which will be shown in cinemas in 30 countries.

He said that many people around Britain and abroad cannot get to London to experience these exhibitions, but added that the films, live and otherwise, also brought something additional to the gallery-going experience in the form of expert insight.

"I'm not saying we replicate galleries," he said. "It's partly for people to learn about the works and partly the pure aesthetic pleasure of seeing the artworks on a massive screen."