From a drive-in to a hot tub cinema: Outdoor screenings don’t have to stop for the cold

Francesca Steele finds some startling alternatives to the multiplex

Francesca Steele
Saturday 08 December 2012 01:00

In the summer, eschewing the multiplex in favour of ever quirkier cinema locations has become something of a national pastime. Films in parks, films in pubs, films on rooftops, in hot tubs, in cemeteries. Pop-up screenings, immersive screenings, screenings in fancy-dress... Sitting under the stars with a rug, cushion and a glass of Pimm's has become as common a sight up and down the UK in June as, well, a glass of Pimm's.

Similarly eclectic cinematic pursuits in the winter have, in the past, been hard to find (perhaps operators felt they simply couldn't afford the heating bills) but now it seems venues are catching on.

From snuggling under a blanket on the rooftops of a prestigious London hotel to watch Miracle on 34th Street, to slipping into a Jacuzzi with some mulled wine and a projector (yes, really) or getting your ice skates on before a screening of Frank Capra's Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life, here is a run-down of unusual ways to watch films this winter.

Old Vic Tunnels, London

Bringing a more literal sense to underground cinema are the film screenings within the Old Vic Tunnels. For the uninitiated, this labyrinthine set of unused railway vaults below Waterloo Station has become one of the capital's leading arts venues in recent years, hosting pop-up galleries, theatre and concerts as well as film screenings, in association with Everyman Cinema, throughout the year. Its winter wonderland, by day a family-friendly alpine forest, complete with northern lights, snow and stalls selling bratwurst, screens films such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Home Alone. At night, the forest is transformed into a bar and has celluloid classics such as Back to the Future and Ghostbusters on offer.

( to 23 December, £5 to £26

Winter Wonderland at the Berkeley, London

Grab a hot chocolate and some mince pies and head up to the roof-top terrace of the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, which has been transformed into a pine tree forest bedecked with heating lamps, fluffy cushions, warm blankets and hot-water bottles. With just four seats, it's an intimate affair, screening either Miracle on 34th Street or the Richard Curtis love-it-or-hate-it romcom Love Actually. It's not a cheap night out though. If you're staying at the hotel it's free. Otherwise, the "Winter Wonderland package", which is only available to non-guests on weeknights and which includes unlimited hot chocolate and mince pies, costs £55.

(020 7201 1699) 31 January

The Route 66 Drive-In, Manchester

You don't have to be the cast of Grease to enjoy watching a movie from the comfort of your own car. Bringing the magic of the classic American drive-in to, well, an industrial estate in Trafford, Greater Manchester, this is the first permanent drive-in in the UK (there have only been pop-ups before) and owner John O'Leary already has plans to expand to Leeds, Liverpool and Cardiff. The current spot has space for 50 cars and you can order pizza and popcorn with your ticket. Films range from the latest releases, including The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, to Christmas favourites such as The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Cost: from £18 per vehicle, regardless of occupancy ( ongoing

Big Screens: Bristol, Liverpool and Middlesbrough

A legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there are 22 Big Screens installed in prominent city locations across the UK and three of them will show festive films over the next few weeks at no extra cost to audiences. Head to Millennium Square in Bristol for weekend day screenings of Father Christmas, the jolly adaptation of The Snowman creator Raymond Briggs's book. Middlesbrough will show It's a Wonderful Life and The Polar Express and Clayton Square in Liverpool will show various classic films every Thursday until Christmas.

( various dates, free. The Round Chapel, Hackney, London

Church isn't just for carols, with screenings, from behind the pulpit in this wonderfully atmospheric chapel in east London, of Elf, featuring funnyman Will Ferrell, and It's a Wonderful Life, the black-and-white family classic starring Jimmy Stewart. Instead of popcorn, the bar will be serving Christmas treats, including candy canes, mince pies and chocolate logs. (The same company runs more screenings at the nearby Hackney Downs Studios.)

( 15 December, £8.50 to £13.50. Hot Tub Cinema, East London

If you have to brave the cold, why not have a bath await you on arrival? At least that was the thinking from the team behind what are probably London's strangest alternative film screenings. After popular rooftop summer events and a sell-out run at Halloween that included films such as The Lost Boys and Beetlejuice, the event has now moved to an indoor warehouse space in Shoreditch, where secret films can be watched from a hot tub surrounded by a winter wonderland. You are advised to bring a dressing gown for trips to the bar, as well, of course, as your swimwear and a towel. The current run finishes tomorrow but founder Asher Charman hopes to return early next year "while it's still cold".

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( today and tomorrow, £28 for a single ticket or £225 for a hot tub for eight people

Glasgow on Ice

The biggest city north of the border is hosting seven weeks of events in George Square against the backdrop of the beautiful Victorian City Chambers building, now headquarters to Glasgow City Council. The films in the main marquee on Wednesdays and Sundays include The Grinch and A Christmas Carol and are free, although the skating is not. You can also watch pantos, do some face-painting and listen to some jazz.

( to 30 December, free

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