Cinema in an Outstanding Landmark

Civic Centre courtesy Andrew Cromar (2)

Civic Centre and Council Chamber courtesy Andrew Cromar

A “really outstanding landmark, comparable to the Royal Festival Hall and Coventry Cathedral” and not normally open to the public is the setting for one of a series of film events this autumn in surprising locations.

The Council Chamber in Plymouth’s Civic Centre was described in these terms by Simon Thurley, Head of English Heritage at the time of its Grade II Listing status in 2007 and it provides an unusual backdrop for a screening of the 1968 cult classic, The Swimmer, with Burt Lancaster and with a debut role from Joan Rivers.

The film screening on Saturday 4 October at 8pm forms part of Plymouth Arts Centre’s ‘On Tour’ programme which was kicked off by the popular Open Air Cinema at Royal William Yard on 11-13 September. There will be two more film screenings this autumn away from the Centre’s more usual home in Looe Street, one in the Welcome Hall, Devonport on 12 October, part of the River Tamar Film Festival and a later one in November with details still to be confirmed.

Dressed only in swimming trunks throughout the film, Lancaster plays a wealthy, middle-aged advertising man, on a long and revelatory journey through suburban Connecticut. Lancaster slowly makes his way from a party back to his split-level home by travelling from house to house, and from swimming pool to swimming pool. At each stop, Lancaster comes face to face with an incident in his past. And so it goes: as each subsequent suburbanite peels off his self-protective veneer, Lancaster grows more and more disillusioned with what he thought was his ideal lifestyle. “A moody and wonderfully strange allegory of the squandered American Dream” – Film 4.

In recent years the film has gained critical acclaim and cult film status with Lancaster giving a “deeply felt, gut-rot performance … and communicates every emotional beat with perfection”.

The screenings were part funded by the British Film Institute’s Film Audience Network and organised by Plymouth Art Centre’s Film Programmer, Anna Navas.

The Council Chamber is in the Council House, which is next to the Civic Centre – an example of iconic 60s architecture, a reflection of the Post War enthusiasm experienced in Plymouth at the time of rebuilding. The original design by Hector Stirling aimed to provide a balance with the towers of Dingles and Pearl Assurance buildings on the opposite side of Royal Parade. Groundwork started on the Civic Centre in 1959 and the building was officially opened by the Queen in 1962.

The interior was originally one of the most considered and celebrated aspects of the building. Both local and international materials were used liberally, complemented by a range of artworks by local and famous artists. The Council Chamber is covered in exotic wood veneers, and contains a plaster City coat of arms by the sculptor David Weeks (known in Plymouth for his works in the Pannier Market and Guildhall).

Guided walks, led by artists, film-makers and historians, take place before each of the films giving a different cinematic perspective on the city.

Tickets for The Swimmer are available from Plymouth Arts Centre on 01752 206114 or online at Tickets cost £10, concessions £8 – booking is advisable but not essential. Tickets for the Walk at 2pm and 6pm, leaving from Plymouth Arts Centre cost £4 (concessions £3). Combined Walk and Film tickets are also available at a cost of £12 (£9 conc).


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