Once a month the big screen comes to the village hall. A film is chosen, long since played out in metropolitan circles, but fresh to folk in the heart of Norfolk. Tickets are sold in advance for a fiver at the village store, but one pound dearer on the door. Skip Strictly and come down Saturday night.
A band of volunteers sets out rows of chairs on the wooden floor, approximately within the white lines of the badminton court. The overhead projector on the balcony is fired up, and a screensaver zaps around a large screen lowered to cover the stage curtain. The seating may not be of multiplex standard, but the table by the entrance has Cushions For Hire, seemingly sourced from a suite of local sofas.
The audience, when it arrives, is almost entirely past state retirement age, with occasional late 20th century infill. They queue patiently and show their tickets to the ladies at the trestle table, writing down their email addresses on a sheet of paper to be informed of future events. Seating is unreserved. Drinks are purchased. There is time for gossip and chatter, which stops abruptly at seven thirty sharp.
A B-movie has been scheduled, sourced from the BFI's Britain On Film series. Of the hundreds of available films, this month's archive treat features TV documentary footage from the East Anglian coast in the 1960s. We watch the lifeboatmen of Cromer run down to the pier, we reminisce with the officers of the Cley coastguard and we join the crews of once-essential lightships trapped for a fortnight offshore. It is all very evocative of the time. No women play any part whatsoever.
The inter-film intermission soon arrives, providing time for a loo break or a refreshment top up. Wine and beer are available for £3 through a hatch in the back of the hall, and mugs of tea for 50p. These prove popular. Proper tubs of posh ice cream are on sale, but far better value are the scoops of vanilla or raspberry ripple hewn from a supermarket tub and served in a small bowl. Exploitative popcorn, nachos and Haribo are not available.
The Film Audience Network has provided questionnaires, completion of which will help them to gain further funding for rural screenings. The questionnaire stretches to 18 questions, which seems excessive for a night out, and at times intrusive. A precise age is requested, four alternative gender choices are provided, and Q12's interrogation of sexual orientation offers the option to self-describe in a separate box. Many sheets remain incomplete when the lights go down.
The main feature kicks off from a Blu-ray menu screen. The committee have picked well, choosing a wartime drama with a sense of humour, and events almost within the memory of many of those present. Laughs occur at infrequent appropriate moments. No phone calls are received during the performance, nor are bright screens switched on to check Facebook. There may be the odd tear in the eye during the final scenes.
Nobody stays seated until the end of the credits. It's already after ten o'clock, which is late for round here, and the hall has to be cleared prior to tomorrow's activities. The chairs disappear row by row, the washing up begins in the back kitchen and the poster for this month's film is unpinned from the noticeboard. Next month's film remains open to suggestion, please email with ideas, non-blockbusters preferred. The village cinema will return.