Stars rally to save historic cinema for movie lovers

Its regal décor and opulent stage designs attracted a coterie of Victorian stars to tread the boards when it opened in a blaze of glory in 1898.

From Sarah Bernhardt to Lily Langtry, a stream of high-profile performers confirmed the status of the Coronet in Notting Hill Gate in London as one of the finest theatres in the capital.

In its current incarnation as a cinema, it gained international fame as the setting for a date between Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the hit film Notting Hill.

But yesterday, it appeared that the Coronet was facing the biggest threat of its 105-year history amid reports that it could be turned into a leisure complex or a casino. Owners of the west London cinema are thought to have accepted a multi-million pound offer from an unidentified company following a decision to put the cinema on the market.

Residents, including the actor Joseph Fiennes and the director Stephen Frears, and local associations have joined forces to preserve the historic legacy of the former theatre and to ensure it remains a cinema. They are expected to voice their opposition to the sale at a protest at the cinema on Wednesday.

The campaign is being led by Gerald Fox, a producer and director of The South Bank Show, and Julian Ozanne, also a producer.

While details of any sale have not been made public, there were serious concerns that the building would be converted for non-cinematic use, according to Mr Fox. He said: "We are trying to save the Coronet as a cinema and to prevent it from being turned into a leisure complex or a casino, which is what appears may be happening. The Coronet cinema has a great deal of history behind it and it could be one of the most exciting independent cinemas in London today. But it is in danger of disappearing.

"We have been working with all the residents' associations and the council in an attempt to garner support. Julian and I have managed to put in a bid to buy it ourselves but we don't think it is high enough to be accepted."

Among the well-heeled residents of Notting Hill, one unexpected supporter has emerged in the form of Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet, who would like to convert the building into the first easyCinema in central London.

A meeting between the campaign organisers and Mr Haji-Ioannou is scheduled to take place tomorrow to discuss the possibility of joining forces in preserving the heritage of the Coronet.

James Rothnie, the director of corporate affairs at easyGroup, which is sending staff to the protest on Wednesday, said: "We have put in a cash offer of £2m to buy the cinema and received a note of acknowledgement from the estate agent but there are other interested parties. We have heard that another offer may have been accepted from a casino operator. There have also been reports that it may involve a lap-dancing club. We obviously want to keep it as a cinema."

During the past 35 years, the cinema has faced increasing threats from property developers, having successfully avoided being converted into a McDonald's and a shopping centre.

The Coronet said yesterday that Panton Films, which owns the cinema,, did not wish to comment on reports of the sale.

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