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There are very few things in life more satisfying than lying in bed while streaming films on Netflix to wind down after a long day, especially when you also get a warm blanket and some velvety hot chocolate in cold winter days. The Pillow Cinema took this concept forward and created a fascinating cinema experience in Shoreditch. Having renovated an unused underground station, the cinema regularly screens both new blockbusters and classic films. Unlike conventional cinemas, the special thing about the Pillow Cinema is that there are absolutely no chairs. Instead, the room is full of giant beanbags which can fit two people each.
On Saturday, I made the trek down to Shoreditch to watch the historical thriller “The Imitation Game”. After getting off the bus, I took out my iPhone to use my trusty tour guide, Google Map. However, I soon found that the app wasn’t needed at all after being greeted by the sight of people walking with two giant white pillows on the street, which was definitely a hilarious scenario. The cinema is situated in a short brick building with graffiti all over its exterior. There is no “Pillow Cinema” sign or banner, though there are words stating that it is the old Shoreditch underground station. I had to double-check with the doorman to make sure it was the right place.
After getting into the venue with my Eventbrite tickets, I was directed to the bar area where I could hire pillows, buy drinks (coffee, chocolate, beer, cider etc.) and grab some snacks (popcorn, cookies, sweets). The cinema recommends visitors to bring their own pillows. However, if you prefer to save the hassle, you can hire pillows for £1 each. The beanbags are first-come-first-served, and the film starts exactly at the stated time on the ticket so aim to arrive at least 15 minutes early to get the beanbag you want.
The beanbags are quite comfortable, though they are not as big as I thought. You would have to stick close to your beanbag-sharing buddy. The cinema also provides a big blanket for each beanbag. Feel free to take your shoes off or bring slippers to create the most comfortable cinema experience. However, there were regular intervals when I heard train noise during the screening because the venue is so close to the train tracks. It might be annoying when you are trying to listen to the actors, but for some people it might give a full experience of watching a film in a tube station.
On to the film, the lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch definitely gave an emotional and heart-wrenching performance. With some similarities to Cumberbatch’s character in Sherlock, Alan Turing is portrayed as an overly intelligent prodigy who is antisocial at times and hard to work with. The movie is loosely biographical as it centres on Alan Turing’s experience of deciphering the Enigma machine settings in the Second World War, which greatly shortened the length of the war and contributed to the Allies’ victory as they could intercept and decode German messages. As a viewer, I truly felt for the characters, such as when the group succeeds after many obstacles and when they painfully choose not to act on a decoded message to prevent German suspicion, even when taking action would prevent a German raid and save a teammate’s brother who is serving on an affected convoy. Alan’s dedication to a childhood friend Christopher Morcom whom he has romantically loved is also moving, as he named the machine (“Christopher”) after him as he has died of tuberculosis.
The film explores social issues such as sexism and homophobia. For instance, the sexist staff member directs Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) to the room for the secretary interview, as he does not believe that she is sitting for the code-breaker selection test due to her identity as a woman. Thankfully, Alan is not biased against her female identity and invites her to sit for the test, and she outperforms the male candidates. Despite his great contribution to Britain, Alan is convicted of indecency due to his homosexuality and is forced to undergo hormonal treatment, as homosexual acts were illegal at that time. In reality, Alan Turing allegedly committed suicide a few years after the conviction and he only received a posthumous royal pardon in 2013.
Despite some criticisms of historical inaccuracies, “The Imitation Game” is truly a spectacular film that touches on different historical and social issues. The Pillow Cinema also offers an innovative and alternative cinema experience. The price is reasonable for cash-strapped students (£10 per person if you share a beanbag with your friend, £20 if you want to occupy a beanbag all by yourself) and the cinema offers a great selection of films. Do not try to be frugal by not hiring a pillow while not bringing one yourself. You will thank me later!