It was a while since I’d visited the Plaza which was saved from closure several years ago by a group of volunteers and is now a community cinema. When my sons were much younger, we would do the half hour walk to Crosby quite often. It was at the Plaza we saw ET, THE BLACK HOLE, ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING, as well as DEATH ON THE NILE, so I remember it with fondness. It is situated opposite Crosby library which I visited last week because I had a yen to browse shelves of books. Sadly we lost our local library in Litherland almost a year ago.
I’m glad to say the Plaza still has the atmosphere of the cinema I remember, although the seats are no longer those ones that would threaten to spring closed when you stood up or tried to sit down. John and I found the new ones really comfortable with a decent back so you could rest your head as you gazed up at the screen. The film lasted just over an hour and was narrated by Maxine Peake, who can be seen on our television screens at the moment and has played Hamlet at the theatre in Manchester recently.
It was not quite what I expected as the footage did not cover just the First World War but some of the years in the lead up to it and several years afterwards. Neither was it local in the way I had thought it would be. Still I found it really interesting because it gave me a proper feel for the people living then and I received a good impression of their lives.
I had not realised just how prosperous great swathes of Lancashire was in the year up to what they would have called the Great War. The cotton industry was booming and we had a good share of the export market. Neither had it struck me just how many coal fields there were in Lancashire. I enjoyed seeing the marching bands and girls and woman dressed up for the annual festival when the rose queen was crowned.
I actually have a photograph of my sister and I dressed in long frocks in a procession when we were part of such an occasion in late forties Liverpool.
So many happy faces in those pre-WWI films.
Then came the announcement of war and films of marching men. Fortunately we were spared shots of the Somme and the awfulness of the numerous dead, although there were photographs and names of men who had died. Some of the film did show a whistle stop tour of King George V and Queen Mary visiting towns in Lancashire and the multitudes that turned out to catch just a glimpse of them.
I was reminded of the one time I saw Queen Mary. She was in an open car with her son King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth when they visited Liverpool. My parents had taken my sister and I to see them. It must have been in the late forties because my sister was sitting on Dad’s shoulders and I remember being lifted up so I could see over people’s heads in front.
The last part of the film was quite sad because it showed the commemoration of various war memorials in towns and villages in Lancashire. The excellent voiceover by Maxine Peake also informed us about the changes wrought after the war with the loss of jobs due to the decline in the cotton industry. Factories having gone over to making munitions during the war had lost markets worldwide and it was a similar story of lost markets in the coalfields of Lancashire. Altogether I found it fascinating.
A DVD is available from Manchester Central Library, IWM North and other outlets. Price £12. The First World War Life on the Home Front in North West England. www.nwfa.mmu.ac.uk
As my husband and I walked home afterwards, I could not help thinking of when our expectations of an evening at the flicks would be a main feature film, a B movie, a cartoon and the Pathe News. Our hearts might have sunk when confronted by bad news but by the time we had left the cinema in a great crowd of cinemagoers and walked home in the fresh air, the news wouldn't be playing over and over in our minds but we might be singing the songs from a musical or discussing the plot of a murder mystery or laughing over a comedy.
Lately the news on our television screens has been really upsetting and the horror of it all is hard to banish from our thoughts because it is so in our faces. Again and again. I’ve taken to switching over if I can get away with it but I don’t live alone and others think we need to know what’s going on. What do you think?
When my sons were much younger, we would do the walk to Crosby quite often. It was at the Plaza we saw ET, THE BLACK HOLE, ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING, as well as DEATH ON THE NILE. I remembered it fondly as what some would call now an old fashioned proper cinema.