When this first came up on my streaming feed I just assumed it was a documentary, so much discussion has there been over these last two years about the risk to movie theatres in the wake of the pandemic. It isn’t though, it is a dramatisation of the true story of the Lyric in Carmarthen in Mid West Wales that was pegged for demolition in the early 90s. The timing is no coincidence though as the film definitely plays on the recent fears that some hallowed film palaces would be forced to close if big movies and big audiences did not return. I don’t know how long they have been planning the production of this feature but there is no doubt that it has been shaped by recent events in this respect.
Take that title for example. I’m sure it has changed to suit current times because The Lyric isn’t actually a cinema, not really. Like so many similar buildings in rural areas it is actually a theatre that only sometimes screens movies. Watching this initially you’d be forgiven for thinking that it never showed films at all, so much of the focus being on the youth club musicals it puts on. Tagging on romantic images of projectors being laced up at the start does not detract from the fact that the reason the characters are fighting for this establishment is not so that they can watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters there. It’s because the local kids need somewhere to put on their shows.
Indeed this is the focus of a good two thirds of the film and we get to see amateur dramatics productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, Oliver and Jesus Christ Superstar (I’d forgotten how strange Lloyd Webber’s 70’s Jesus musical seems if you don’t know what you are looking at.) We are also treated to the obligatory kids auditioning montage and all kinds of other cliched moments. In fact I’m not sure that the film itself doesn’t feel a little am dram. I’m talking the highest quality am dram you understand but it is all very gentle and unchallenging with earnest performances and a limited budget, and maybe even a few dodgy accents. (Tennessee Williams is a Welsh accent is quite interesting, which to be fair is something the movie knows and owns.)
Then in the later stages they lay on an element that does try to celebrate the medium of film and the shared experience of viewing one but it feels tagged on. Even the final screening they have, which is a big part of what really happened so would have been in the narrative from the start, feels rushed and less of a priority than the earlier parts of the story. The whole thing just feels like it’s been played around with late in the day and I suspect it is because they wanted that emotive title.
This said, it is all quite sweet. It feels like it belongs on TV rather than in cinemas, which is a shame in light of all I’ve just said. As it is, it will be seen on both with there being selected screenings and a launch on Sky at the same time. There is nothing here to raise any emotions but it just about raises enough interest and it is very well intentioned, no matter how those intentions have been shaped by other contemporary factors.
The Ripley Factor:
The Ripley Factor seeks to highlight depictions of real women facing real challenges in inspiring ways and this story actually fits that perfectly. The driving force behind the campaign to save The Lyric Theatre (sorry, correction: Cinema – it’s a cinema, The Lyric Cinema) was Liz Evans, mum of three and local hairdresser. She is supported by other women too and actually, any men who help are only in position to do so because the women put them there.