No masks, happy families: welcome to the Guernsey cinema that Covid forgot

Marianka Swain
·3-min read
At the Mallard Cinema, only the lack of new releases would alert you to Covid's effects - Mallard Cinema
At the Mallard Cinema, only the lack of new releases would alert you to Covid's effects - Mallard Cinema

It’s a bleak time for the arts industry once again, as the country plunges into a third national lockdown. The latest restrictions will last until at least mid-February in England and the end of January in Scotland, while existing rules have been tightened in both Northern Ireland and Wales.

Arts workers are still able to rehearse for shows – however long it is until they can stage them before live audiences – while TV and film production can continue, under tight constraints. But in Britain, the simple pleasure of going to see a movie with other people feels further off than ever.

However, the picture looks radically different on the nearby island of Guernsey. A successful system of rigorous testing, tracing and isolating early on meant that residents of the Crown dependency were able to return to life as normal by late June 2020. Other than a cluster in October, the island has seen no new cases since then. 

That’s great news for the Mallard Cinema – the only cinema on Guernsey – which, unlike its UK counterparts, is currently welcoming film fans to see movies such as Woman Woman 1984. “We closed during the full lockdown in March, then reopened in May. It’s been fine ever since,” says general manager Daniel Phillips-Smith.

What about social distancing or capacity restrictions? “We did social distancing for a week or two, otherwise nothing,” he reports. “No one needs to wear masks, because we’re more or less free of new cases and there’s no transmission risk here. We’ve put up screens in the shop – that’s about it.”

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984, now playing in Guernsey
Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984, now playing in Guernsey

The only problem is that the Mallard remains dependent on the British film market – and, with all the shifting tier restrictions and lockdowns, the major distributors are reluctant to release new movies and risk a poor box-office return.

That’s frustrating for Phillips-Smith. “Everyone has been saying to us, ‘When are you getting new films?’ They’re keen to come, but we just don’t have the movies to programme. It’s very quiet. I can understand why distributors are wary - I just hope that changes soon.”

For now, Woman Woman 1984 “is a godsend. And we’re hoping to get Blithe Spirit on January 15. We’ve also had a really good run with marathons of popular franchises, like Harry Potter. If this goes on, with no new releases, we’ll start evaluating again and programming other marathons – like Mad Max and Star Wars.”

Even the snack bar indoors looks like the world prior to March 2020 - Mallard Cinema
Even the snack bar indoors looks like the world prior to March 2020 - Mallard Cinema

Phillips-Smith, who moved to Guernsey three years ago with his husband to take over the cinema, says it has a “real community feel. People are very confident about coming back to the cinema - as well as to restaurants and shops. It feels like life as usual, really.”

It was particularly nice, he recalls, when everyone came to see films at Christmas. “After such a rotten year, it meant people could still have family time and keep that tradition going. We showed classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and Home Alone.”

But if you’re tempted to make a dash for Guernsey and its relative Covid-free paradise, bad luck: we can’t currently travel from the UK without good reason, and anyone who does enter Guernsey from a Category 4 region or country (under which the UK falls) is required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Still, it’s perhaps a beacon of hope as we reckon with yet another lockdown here. One day, we’ll be back in cinemas – or at least able to make a trip to the Mallard.

What do you miss most about cinemas? Let us know in the comments section below.