Image: Charlotte Rawlings

Leading film critics reveal the home cinema set-up that’s got them through lockdown, writes Jake Helm.

Cinemas – remember them? The rooms with the large, high-definition screens, comfy red chairs, perfectly placed surround sound speakers, and the smell of fresh popcorn? 

Attendance at British cinemas in 2020 was 75 per cent down on the 176 million admissions in 2019. Among those unable to attend due to the pandemic were film critics. Four of the UK’s leading film critics reveal to XCityPlus the home cinema set-up that’s got them through lockdown and what they miss about the silver screen. 

Image: Bauer Media


Name: James Dyer.

Job title?  Editor-in-chief (Digital) at Empire.

Room of choice? The front room as it’s quite literally the only TV in the house.

Television or device?  A 65” Philips Ambilight TV with 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos sound system (what can I say? I take this stuff seriously).

Time? Evenings, mornings, afternoons – it varies. 

Viewing buddy? I watch alone when possible. I don’t like distractions.

Seat? A supernaturally comfortable Multiyork (may they rest in peace) sofa that I’ve had for 20 years. It’s still going strong.

Sweet or salty popcorn? Sweet – I’m not a psychopath.

Any other snacks or drinks? Yes, all of them. And ginger beer.

Talker or shusher? Never talk. Anyone who does is banished immediately.

How would you describe your home cinema set-up? Immersive – I need to feel like I’m in the movie.

Dream cinema set-up? A ten-storey IMAX screen would be nice, if a little impractical.

Go-to film? Aliens. I’ve seen it literally hundreds of times.

Genre? Sci-fi/fantasy.

Cinematic guilty pleasure? Nuns on the Run.

Horror or rom-com? Both. Even together.

What film has got you through the pandemic? No one movie in particular, but I did dive into a re-watch of every Marvel movie during the first lockdown.

What have you learnt about film criticism during this pandemic? That being separated from the cinema feels like losing a limb. 

What does the future of film criticism look like? Smaller release windows between theatrical and streaming. I certainly respect giving people the option to watch films where they choose to and for many, streaming at home is more affordable and more practical than heading to the cinema, but some films really need to be seen theatrically. 


Image: BBC Radio 1

Name: Ali Plumb.

Job: BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra’s film critic, interviewer guy, and in-house nerd. Only the first part of that is what’s on my contract, I confess.

Room of choice? My lounge, because that’s where the TV is. 

Television or device? TV – a Samsung.

Time? Whenever I need to.

Viewing buddy? Should she be interested, my wife. Just the two of us in our little flat. But only in the evenings, because of that pesky ‘work’ malarky.

Seat? A sofa. Any comfy sofa. 

Sweet or salty popcorn? I like a mix of both to be honest, but as ever it’s hard to eat quietly.

Snacks? Anything as long as it’s quiet and, well, not distractingly pungent.

Talker or shusher? At home, we’ll pause and talk, at cinemas, not so much.

Describe your home cinema set-up? I wouldn’t describe it as a “home cinema set-up” at all. It’s a TV on a stand in front of a sofa in a lounge. I don’t really have the space to dream any bigger than that.

Dream cinema set-up? I wish I had an actual cinema – in the basement of a lovely multi-million pound town house. Sofa seating, proper projection booth, the works. If you’ve ever watched The Sopranos, something like Tony’s.

Go-to film? Recently I’ve been recommending reliable, newer stuff, such as What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Booksmart, The Peanut Butter Falcon is my most tried and true winner on that front.

Genre? I like ‘talky’ films, so I’m a sucker for a courtroom drama.

Cinematic guilty pleasure? Is loving The Rock something to feel guilty about?

Horror or rom-com? Rom-com.

What film has got you through the pandemic? TV has been more of a help, rewatching favourites and sharing old boxsets with my better half: The US version of The Office, Parks and Recreation, Futurama, and so on.

What have you learnt about film criticism during this pandemic? Comfort is king.

What does the future of film criticism look like? I suspect YouTube reviews – and all video reviews, essentially – will become top dog for a good while, numbers-wise. But there will still be space for all formats, for all tastes, be it a spoiler-filled written critical analysis in a broadsheet or a series of witty one-liners dashed out on Twitter. 


Image: Total film

Name: Jane Crowther.

Job title: Editor-in-chief, Total Film

Room of choice? In my garden shed/office. With the blinds closed and the phone off. I don’t want to be distracted when watching a film if possible.

Television or device? MacBook Pro. Christopher Nolan would not be impressed.

Time? All around the clock. 

Viewing buddy? No one. I miss seeing a film with the Total Film team so we can dissect it in the foyer afterwards.

Seat? Sofa always. 

Sweet or salty popcorn? Both, mixed together.

Snacks? A nice glass of red wine. Pinot noir if you’re asking.

Talker or shusher? Absolutely no talking ever.

Describe your home cinema set-up? Somewhat lacking when I read about George Clooney’s home cinema situation.

Dream cinema set-up? Red velvet cinema seats, Dolby surround sound, projector, soundproof room, lockable door.

Go-to film? If I have to say just one, it’s Dirty Dancing.

Genre? Couldn’t possibly choose only one.

Cinematic guilty pleasure? Hard Target

Horror or rom-com? Both. 

What film has got you through the pandemic? Any of Luca Guadagnino’s films. It’s like travelling when you can’t go anywhere.

What have you learnt about film criticism during this pandemic? That film festivals work pretty well remotely but it’s no substitute for the buzz and shared community experience of the real thing.

What does the future of film criticism look like? Hopefully more diverse and egalitarian.


Image: Clarisse Loughrey

Name: Clarisse Loughrey

Job: Chief film critic, The Independent

Room of choice? I live in a very small studio flat, so there is only one room to do anything in.

Television or device? Usually my TV, which is a Finlux my dad won off a TV show a while back. I do have a mini-projector that I try to use when I can.

Time? I prefer the evenings, but because of work, it tends to be all hours of the day.

Seat? The only comfortable seat in my flat is my bed, so always in bed.

Sweet or salty popcorn? Butter.

Any other snacks or drinks? Doritos, always Doritos. And probably a cup of herbal tea. 

Talker or shusher? Would it be weird to admit I talk to myself?

Describe your home cinema set-up? Indicative of my poor life choices.

Dream cinema set-up? Decent sound and maybe a sofa.

Go-to film? Taika Waititi’s Boy or Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.

Genre? Musicals.

Cinematic guilty pleasure? Aggressively outdated 1960s sex comedies like How to Murder Your Wife (1965).

Horror or rom-com? Combine both for a horror rom-com.

What film has got you through the pandemic? Birds of Prey.

What have you learnt about film criticism during this pandemic? It’s a very isolating job to do on your own. Film is always at its most interesting when it’s a conversation.

What does the future of film criticism look like? All I hope for is that it’s open and inclusive. There should not be limitations on who deserves to have their voice be heard

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