Jeune Street’s Ultimate Picture Palace is Oxford’s oldest cinema. Originally the Oxford Picture Palace, it opened in 1911, two years before Oxford’s other indie, Jericho’s Phoenix Picturehouse (née the North Oxford Kinema).
The UPP couldn’t be further from a multiplex; located in the culturally diverse Cowley Road area, it’s a single-screen cinema in an (almost) single-room building. The classic façade (comparable to Birmingham’s The Electric) deservingly draws the eye.
After buying a ticket at the most literal “box” office you’re likely to ever encounter it’s just a couple of steps to your seat – via the bar if you should wish. The fact that the UPP is ran by volunteers ensures that staff are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly, and contributes to the real community feeling of watching a film there.
A couple of relatively recent refurbishments have given the UPP a sophisticated and timeless interior which more than matches its beautiful exterior. After a deservedly successful Kickstarter campaign the cinema’s historically valuable but bloody uncomfortable seats have been replaced with custom designed plush seating which artfully alludes to the UPP’s architecture. Some chairs are marked with the names of generous patrons who gifted significant donations to the cause, and each features a tiny table (a drinks holder like no other), perfect for holding your cuppa. Yes, at the UPP you can get a real cup of tea.
But that’s not all. The bar also stocks a range of beers and herbal teas, some excellent brownies and Oxford-made G&D’s ice cream, and is reasonably priced.
The UPP programs independent, foreign and documentary film with a generous dose of classic fare, alongside the absolute best of mainstream hits. Contemporary films are screened a month or so after release, allowing you to catch up on anything unmissable you didn’t catch the first time round. Of course, it’s also considerably cheaper than Oxford’s two city-centre Odeons (and about on par with the Phoenix Picturehouse).
Programming at the UPP is as creative as it is well-judged. Special events have included silent films scored by live piano, and a range of small film festivals.
A few freebie postcards, and local art is sporadically exhibited on the walls. All in all, a visit to the UPP is a top experience. This is cinema as it’s supposed to be.