The Ultimate Picture Palace 2022: How Cinema is Bringing the Community Together in Oxford

The Ultimate Picture Palace (UPP) has provided quirky content for film fanatics and locals for decades. The hidden gem found off Cowley road in Oxford beat being sold off to a commercial owner in 2022 thanks to the will of the community and work of the passionate director of the UPP, Micaela Tuckwell. Following the successful “Lights, Community, Action!” campaign, 1,300 locals invested in the purchase of the UPP and as of the 29th June 2022 it was able to stay open and independent.

The Ultimate Picture Palace, Current Ownership’

The History of the Ultimate Picture Palace Cinema

The cinema’s turbulent history of closure and reopening has earned it the descriptor of ‘ A remarkable survivor from another age’ (The Ultimate Survivor Film, 2011). The cinema first opened in 1911 as the Oxford Picture Palace (1911-1917); it was closed due to the starting of World War One and didn’t reopen again until 1974, and was named The Penultimate Picture Palace (1974-1994); in 1994 it became Section 6 and was owned by squatters; from 1999-2022 it reopened as The Ultimate Picture Palace; and in June 2022 the the UPP became a community business, owned by the people.

Today, the UPP shows niche films picked by a panel of enthusiasts: their films include indie, cult classics and foreign cinema. In the 1990s, Bill Heine of the Picture Palace faced backlash for trying to show the contraversial The Clockwork Orange, a film banned in cinemas at the UK at the time, illustrating the determination of the UPP to be different. The UPP is more of a ‘film club’ rather than your traditional cinema.

Ultimate Picture Palace
The Opening of the Oxford Picture Palace in 1911, The Ultimate Survivor, Philip Hind, 2011

Micaela Tuckwell on the Ultimate Picture Palace Becoming a Community-Owned Business

In the online talk ‘Film Feedback: Running & Saving A Special Little Cinema’ on 13th September, UPP director Micaela Tuckwell praised the connection the people of East Oxford have with their local cinema. Micaela expanded that cinema has so many benefits in people’s lives, which she says accounts for the community devotion to the UPP. Specifically, Micaela highlights the solitude and tranquility that cinema provides, which she says helped her recover from a stroke and birthed her love for cinema. Oxford’s recognition of the multitudinous benefits of cinema is evidenced in the 1,300 people who raised a total of £366,000 in June 2022 to buy the UPP for ‘community ownership’, keeping their beloved independent cinema going.

Moreover, the community are not just financial sponsors, but are also valued for their innovation at the UPP. The cinema employs a group of volunteers to perform a rigorous selection process of future listings. If you are interested in volunteering, you can find out more details here.

Membership Scheme at the Ultimate Picture Palace

In promoting cheaper ticket deals, the cinema is also providing a breath of fresh air from the cost of living crisis. Most impressive is the UPP’s ‘Membership Scheme’, where you can sign up to the ‘’Five Pound Film Pass’ and enjoy £5 tickets for all films shown at the UPP if you are aged between 15 and 25. Initiatives such as these make Oxford’s UPP stand out in a city which in 2021 was being called the most expensive city in comparison to house prices in the country by OxfordshireLive.

What’s on at the Ultimate Picture Palace?

The UPP also holds all day film-festivals, promising that cinema is not just about enjoying good films but is a sociable space about connecting people over shared interests. On the 15th October 2022, the cinema is showcasing the spectacular ‘Blood & Celluloid: Vampire Film Festival’, a 12 hour celebration of classic vampire films. They will be showing five vampire films, including Interview With The Vampire (1994) and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), and tickets are £30. Events like these distinguish the UPP from other cinemas in Oxford, and highlights their contribution to the rising alternative scene on Cowley road. More generally, the UPP’s well-priced events are improving the inclusivity of the Arts in Oxford.

‘Slowly, Slowly’, Steve Larkin, Mural on Cowley Road Celebrating Multiculturalism and Artistic Expression in the Area