Flying Back to Rio

The Return of East London’s Art Deco Cinema

Lawrence Bennie
3 min readOct 4, 2020
Dalston Kingsland’s Rio Cinema dates back as an entertainment venue to 1909

One of London’s oldest and best-loved cinemas has been welcoming back cinemagoers after nearly four months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Rio Cinema, located on Kingsland High Street in Dalston, was one of the capital’s first independent cinemas to reopen since closing on 17th March 2020. “We wanted to reopen to put all new measures in to allow staff to be confident and for the public to be familiar with them”, explains cinema manager Oliver Meek. “There’s been a real sense of solidarity. It’s been very heartening so far”.

Resuming with Jessica Swale’s Summerland on Friday 7th August starring Gemma Arterton, Oliver and his team have kickstarted business again at the Rio with an engaging programme of screenings and events. A well-attended Q & A with Swale was held on Sunday 9th August whilst the venue was almost at social distancing capacity for the subsequent session for Claire Oakley’s Make Up the following week. Additionally, a screening of family fantasy Four Kids and It also took place on Sunday 16h August to raise vital funds for the venue.

Throughout the entire period, Olivier has tirelessly continued to fundraise for the survival of the Rio, appealing to the cinema’s membership and applying for arts and government funding. Although managing to turn a small profit, Olivier is clear about the uncertainty facing the cinema.

“The biggest challenge is our reduced capacity. The main screen has 400 seats and its been dramatically reduced due to social distancing. Throughout the year, there’s typically 3 films which generate our main revenue. The longer social distancing goes on, the trickier that will be. We’re looking forward to when it becomes relaxed but, of course, that can only be when it’s safe to do so”.

One way of tackling the disruption to programming has been through extensive hiring of the cinema; a video premiere and live set for Ethan P. Flynn’s new single was held on Monday 17th August to a sell-out audience. “As a venue, we have lots of special events and private hires. We do a lot with the music industry and, because there’s been lots of availability, there’s been more space to accommodate other things”.

Things don’t stop there for the Rio either. The team have launched their own self-curated online player and an upcoming book (due for October) will explore the unique relationship between the venue and the local community, as marketing manager Andrew Woodyatt explains. “It will tell the the story of the Rio in the 1980s and its pioneering Tapeslide Newsreel Group who created a weekly slideshow of local news that played in front of the films between 1982 and 1988”.

Of course, the cinema is also counting on the big buzz around Christopher Nolan’s Tenet to give the Rio, and the cinema business, a much- needed box-office boost. “It’s been a very difficult time and there is so much uncertainty”, admits Oliver. “Tenet is confirmed and, if it does well, things will probably pick up”.

With its famed Art Deco design, the thirties-flavoured Rio has survived the Blitz and multiplex dominance to remain a firm favourite with London’s film- lovers. “It’s all very positive news so far”, affirms Andrew. “There’s lots of feedback from customers who say their visit felt well managed and reassuringly safe”. Now, with a £25,000 fundraising target to hit, Rio staff, Hackney residents and the filmgoers are determined for the cinema to endure once again and remain one of the jewels of London’s independent cinemas.

Support the Rio’s fundraising campaign by visiting:

Information about the Rio Cinema Archive book can be found at:



Lawrence Bennie

Teacher & Theatre tour guide. Interested in Arts & Culture, Film, History, Psychology, and the odd mystery!