John Woodhouse: Popcorn at dawn as battle lines are drawn in cinema 'stand-off'
HANLEY'S never found itself in the middle of the Hollywood film industry. That On The Waterfront-esque blockbuster, On The Concourse, set at the bus station, starring Tom Cruise as a no-nonsense leader of the PMT just never quite happened.
Similarly, Julia Roberts turned down the chance to play a fish-out-of-water landlady in the mothballed rom-com, Burton Stores.
And yet now cinema finds itself at the very epicentre of one of the North Staffordshire town's greatest shoot-outs.
On one side of the table, chewing a matchstick and pinging phlegm into the spittoon, stands the Potteries Shopping Centre.
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On the other, nursing a malt, and spinning the barrel of its Colt 45, is the, albeit illiterate, newcomer in town, City Sentral.
It's got its eyes on a plot of land – the old coaching stop – and nobody's going to get in its way. Although, in this game of retail poker, a pair of wily old-timers by the names of Marks and Spencer may yet hold the trump card.
Both the Potteries Shopping Centre and City Sentral are vying for the affections of a classy broad by the name of Vue Cinema.
Known for her plush exterior and trademark large seat, she's got these two hooked. They'll do anything to jump in bed with her. Because, such is her allure, folks will come from miles around to spend an evening snuggled in her bosom.
Thing is, Vue Cinema is a one venue kind of gal. She don't spread herself thin. This is the cinematic elite, not Kat Slater from EastEnders.
The Potteries Shopping Centre feels it's ahead of its rival in this love chase in that its sturdy steed is ready and waiting in town.
City Sentral, meanwhile, has yet to arrive. And recent losses mean when it does it may be on a donkey.
Both fear that without Vue their plans for expansion will founder. Cinemas bring major footfall. Although not so much if the main feature is a remake of On The Buses 2.
Not only that, but the flicks attracts restaurants and other leisure activities – bowling, casinos, queuing for over-priced sweets, that kind of thing.
To be the shopping centre without a cinema doesn't bear thinking about.
Putting up a big-screen telly and showing repeats of Gardeners' World just won't do.
As Duncan Mathieson, below, managing director of Realis, the people behind City Sentral, says: "You can watch films at home, but you can't have the family experience with the meal and movie." Although I draw the line at a clan of five eating a three-course chicken dinner in the back row.
Mathieson believes the benefits of a Potteries Shopping Centre expansion are limited, while City Sentral will drag Hanley from 73rd place to among the top 30 retail destinations in the country. So from Football League Division Two to mid-table Championship.
Either way it's just shopping.
So I'll pin my colours to the mast of whichever one gets Primark.
Hopefully both shopping centres, plus the council's new £40 million offices, will prove a success.
The other way of rebranding Hanley is as a safari park featuring the country's greatest collection of white elephants.
In the meantime, we must wait to see which part of the town will be entertaining horror fans, other than the taxi queue at 2am on a Saturday morning.
My fear is by the time the issue has been resolved, cinema will be a redundant art form and everyone will be watching movies in 3D motorbike hats in their living-room.
The good news is that, while we await Vue's decision, there will be some high class entertainment filling the gap at Hanley's theatre. Look out for The Year The Town Hall Shrank – On Ice, at The Regent.