Drive-in cinema comes to Manchester

The phrase "drive-in cinema" conjures up images of 1950s America with young couples enjoying a film on a balmy evening as they sit in their convertible cars with the top down.

The opening night of the new Route 66 drive-in, on an industrial estate in Trafford, Greater Manchester, was an altogether different experience.

Families wore hats and jumpers and snuggled under blankets as they parked up on a dark October evening, which saw temperatures closer to 3 degrees than the 30 degrees of drive-in capital California.

The cinema, complete with 50 car spaces, is believed to be the UK's first permanent drive-in - though owner John O'Leary already has plans to expand to Leeds, Liverpool and Cardiff.

"I went to a film festival with a temporary drive-in and said if it's done right with new films this could be something permanent," he said.

"I opened a drive-in, in Cork, Ireland, and it's been quite successful so I'm expanding.

"I've had a really good reaction from people in Manchester - many are surprised at first but then really excited."

'Add to atmosphere'

The 22m (72ft) by 12m (39ft) screen displays a digital, cinema-quality picture, although the state of your windscreen and your choice of seat will also play a part in determining how the viewing experience turns out, as Claire Allred-Warburton, 28, of Swinton, found.

"We couldn't see in the back: you really need a car with a big windscreen. We brought duvets because we thought it would be cold," she said.

"We gave it a go and enjoyed the experience, but it will be better in summer or it would add to the atmosphere of a horror film."

Following initial fears that windows would have to be wound down to hear the sound from speakers, creating a bracing atmosphere in the car, movie-goers were relieved to find that on entry they were given a radio frequency to tune into on their car stereos.

Again, the quality of your own radio and speakers will play a part in your enjoyment, but turned up loud the sound was perfectly synched with the picture and created an impression of being in your own private cinema.

Many cinema-goers dread paying more than the ticket price again for overpriced snacks, but one advantage is that at the drive-in you can bring your own.

'You can smoke'

Alternatively, staff take orders before the film starts and phone them in to a nearby takeaway, which delivers a choice of pizzas, burgers, kebabs and pasta straight to your car.

The idea of hot food in a cold car on a damp Manchester night could conjure up images of steam-covered windows and frantic wiping, but Mr O'Leary believes rain will not be a barrier to enjoyment.

"It would have to be lashing down to spoil it," he claimed. "It's just a different cinematic experience: you can smoke, your baby can be sleeping in the back. We're already booked up over the weekend."

He plans to offer the latest films as well as football matches streamed live.

The experience was given the thumbs-up by nurse Vicky Dodd, 34, of Whalley Range, who enjoyed the opening night with two friends.

"We would definitely do it again. You do need blankets as it does get cold, but the sound was really good."

Whether the American drive-in experience can transfer successfully to a wetter, colder car park in Greater Manchester remains to be seen.

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