It might not have Dolby Atmos, but my local indie cinema is still my favourite place to watch movies

Reading Biscuit Factory entrance front with logo
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Hands up: who’s been let down by their cinema experiences because of inconsiderate chatty audience members, flickering mobile screens, dingy interiors, overpriced snacks and even pricier tickets? My trips to UK cinema chains over the years have become infrequent for a variety of those issues, and I have opted to either go for midday or midnight screenings (when there are fewer people), or head all the way into London and splash out for the full-blown Dolby Atmos/Vision or IMAX screening for specific films, on rare occasions only.

But that means giving up popping over to your local cinema for any new film that might interest you – and there are plenty of fantastic new films being released, and not just the big Marvel blockbusters or latest Nolan opus – or simply waiting for the home release on Blu-ray or streaming. While I imagine many What Hi-Fi? readers have a rather lovely home cinema set-up at home, be it a large OLED TV, projector or a full surround speaker system, unless you have your own private cinema room then it’s still no substitute for going to the movies and being transported to another world by the magic of a dark room, large screen and enveloping sound as you watch pictures come to life.

So it's a rare thing to find a cinema that delivers a comfortable, distraction-free and affordable experience these days. But that's exactly what my local independent cinema in Reading town centre has managed to do – and then some. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs of, well, everything, cinema-going numbers have been at an all-time low, so it takes a certain amount of will, luck and fortitude to open an independent cinema. Reading Biscuit Factory opened in the summer of 2021 and has easily become not only my favourite cinema to visit but also a wonderful place to just hang out in – another rarity these days. It’s a community space as well as a cinema, with an open, welcoming and brightly-lit area with ample seating and a relaxing, friendly environment where you can meet with friends, have a sit down or even work. For free.

Inside of Reading Biscuit Factory with tables, DJ set and giant globe light

Fun fact: the biscuit tin was invented in Reading. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Located in the town centre, the Reading Biscuit Factory (so named after the town’s Huntley & Palmer’s biscuit legacy) has three screens – none of which have Dolby Atmos or Vision, the largest screen has about 90+ seats – and it is an absolute joy watching films in there. They show the latest blockbuster releases as well as independent films – horror and animation especially get a look in – and they regularly show classic cult films, short films and live event screenings. An adult ticket is roughly a tenner (less if you become a member, which I’ve been for two years now – worth every penny), and there are inclusive screenings for those hard of hearing, those aged 60+ and also baby-friendly ones.

The projection screen and surround sound are of perfectly good quality, but it’s the general feel of the cinema – as well as of my fellow respectful cinema goers – that makes the experience so much nicer than any other cinema I’ve been to in ages.

The first films I watched there were Spider-Man: No Way Home and Titane – both very different films and very different audiences, but memorable for their common factor: a group of film fans excited to watch a new release and enjoy it fully on a big screen, and a sense of normalcy coming back after months of uncertainty.

To this day, three years on, I have never encountered a single instance of people needlessly talking during the film or mobile phone screens turned on. Yes, you can bring snacks and drinks bought on the premises into the screen, but besides the occasional crunch of popcorn and rustling of wrappers (thankfully not at any inopportune times), it’s been an annoyance-free experience. There are no nachos here, but there is some good house wine. The cinema is run by friendly faces too, happy to chat about films and what we thought about some of the stranger screenings (we're all still unsure about the existential body horror of Titane).

Boxes of CDs and cassettes, fairy lights and a sign supporting local cinema

Pop-up stores, pizza, music and more – it's not just films here. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

There are so many films, big and small, that I've seen at Reading Biscuit Factory (or RBF, for short), that I've rarely felt like I was missing out on not being in a bigger, flashier cinema kitted out with Atmos or IMAX. My memorable cinema experiences have varied from watching Everything Everywhere All At Once with an audience fizzing with excitement as the mind-bending story unfolded on screen to being the only person at the Sunday midday Fast X screening (which means I got to yell and gesticulate at all the ridiculousness; it's a good thing no one else was there to see me).

By far the most packed and popular screenings I've been to have been the "Keep It Cult" themed nights, where RBF puts on a classic, cult film, giving you a slice of the niche that London's famed Prince Charles Cinema enjoys. Once again, thoughts of 4K (or 8K) quality or how many nits I'm seeing were pushed to the background as I got to enjoy classics such as My Own Private Idaho and Before Sunrise on the big screen for the first time. The packed audience was more varied than I've seen at any other showing, too. There was no discernible demographic or age group; it was simply a mix of people who had either seen the films before or were watching them for the first time, young and old – the one common thread being that we all love films. 

Does this mean I don’t ever miss the Dolby Atmos/IMAX experience altogether? Not entirely. Watching Mad Max: Fury Road and Dune: Part One on some of the best IMAX/Atmos screens in the country was an astonishing, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping visual and aural spectacle. Both films were exhilarating, visceral and remain two of my favourite-ever movie-going experiences. I'm so glad I made the effort to watch them on the biggest screen with the most engulfing, immersive sound. I imagine I would have enjoyed Dune: Part Two and Furiosa a fair bit more if I'd given them the same all-out treatment, but I don't feel too bad about it as I probably would've missed out entirely if I had tried to find a time to go into London. Thankfully, the Biscuit Factory cinema is only 10 minutes away from my house. I really have no excuse not to go even more regularly. 

On the other hand, I didn't feel like I missed out at all at last summer's Barbenheimer double bill. I have no doubt that the IMAX/Atmos/70mm film screenings of Oppenheimer were amazing, but my experience of watching it at RBF was no less mesmerising. The storytelling was no less potent and once again the full audience was in rapt silence during the Trinity test scene. It was just as powerful in our little indie cinema. In contrast, watching Barbie the next day was full of bright, bubbly energy, the crowd buzzing with excitement as the Biscuit Factory team made a whole event of it: a themed party, themed drinks, everyone dressed up – it was just so much fun to be part of a cinematic event as a whole.

Wall of vintage movie posters inside The Garden Cinema

A wall of vintage posters greet you at Soho's The Garden Cinema. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Reading Biscuit Factory is very much a cinema for cinema lovers. But it's also more than that: it's a community space and there's always something different happening there. There are stand-up and comedy nights, quiz nights, workshops, craft store pop-ups and, more recently (and to the delight of this vinyl fan), a semi-permanent second-hand record store at the weekends, complete with a DJ spinning records. It has its own bar, cafe, and currently excellent on-site pizza courtesy of Sarv's Slice – there's an attempt to highlight local vendors and artists that is admirable, and just adds to the friendly, inviting, warm feeling of the space. And the pizza is delicious. 

It bears repeating: you don't have to buy anything to justify being there. Unlike most other cinemas, you aren't funnelled towards the ticket or concession stands and the main aim doesn't seem to be to part you with your hard-earned cash. 

The Biscuit Factory isn't the only indie cinema around that's finding favour with locals and film fanatics alike. I've recently been to the even newer, even smaller The Garden Cinema in Soho for a recent 4K-restoration screening of Withnail & I and its cosy art-deco environment was utterly charming. There are other indie cinemas with rich histories, unique settings and eclectic schedules that I'd love to visit – Totnes Cinema, the Electric in Birmingham and The Tyneside, to name but three. 

In a time when going to the cinema feels like a luxury, or you're out of the habit or are burned by bad experiences, places that value and prioritise giving you a good, affordable experience where you can enjoy a good mix of films with fellow like-minded fans are places that should be celebrated. Going to see a film should feel like a special event, but it should also be a normal event – one you can afford to go to regularly to spend a few hours away from your real-life issues and be enchanted by movie magic on the big screen, all without ever feeling shortchanged. What a local indie cinema such as the Reading Biscuit Factory (and many others) offers compared with the big-name multiplexes and anonymous cinema chains is a friendly space where everyone is welcomed, where it's affordable (or free) to spend time, and where the experience of watching films is so enjoyable that you'll want to visit over and over again.


I just saw Inside Out 2 at an Onyx LED cinema and now normal cinema might be ruined

I've figured out how much you need to spend on a projector for it to be better than the cinema – and it's a lot

The best Dolby Atmos movie scenes to test your home cinema system

Kashfia Kabir
Hi-Fi and Audio Editor

Kashfia is the Hi-Fi and Audio Editor of What Hi-Fi? and first joined the brand over 10 years ago. During her time in the consumer tech industry, she has reviewed hundreds of products (including speakers, amplifiers, turntables and headphones), been to countless trade shows across the world and fallen in love with hi-fi kit much bigger than her. In her spare time, Kash can be found tending to an ever-growing houseplant collection and shooing her cat Jolene away from spinning records.