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Wellington’s Embassy Theatre

Jul 26, 2017  ·  3 min read

Wellington is home to a string of historic theatres and suburban cinemas, although none are quite as charming as the Embassy Theatre. Just ask Hollywood director, Edgar Wright.

Wright and leading man, Ansel Elgort, were recently in town promoting the soundtrack-driven getaway thriller, Baby Driver.

Side note – Baby Driver leaves that one-dimensional muscle man and every wretched Fast and the Furious film for dead.

The press tour involved a Q&A and screening hosted by Sir Peter Jackson at the mighty Embassy. And apparently Wright labelled the joint, “the best cinema in the world“. Virtual high fives all round – local Welly attraction ftw.

Is he right? It’s a big call. But, if you’ve been to The Embassy Theatre, you’ll agree it is, to use technical terms, pretty sweet.

The Embassy Theatre is a quirky and charismatic theatre, and an important part of the film buff scene in Wellington.

As one of the only purpose-built 20th century cinemas still in use in the country, it’s been recognised as a place of historical and cultural significance by Heritage New Zealand. With marbled staircases, wrought iron handrails, original tiled foyers and ornate ceilings, the Courtenay Place cinema has that if-only-these-walls-could-talk feel, but has had enough facelifts over the years to make it a comfortable spot to catch a session.

The History of the Embassy Theatre

  • The “de Luxe” theatre is designed by Llewellyn Williams for movie mogul, William Kemball costing £100,000
  • De Luxe opens its doors on 31 October 1924. The first picture shown is the silent film, The Ten Commandments
  • Talking movies arrive on the scene in 1929. De Luxe is the first cinema in NZ to show “talkies”
  • Due to personal and business debts, and the Depression, Kemball sells de Luxe to a rival and it is renamed “the Embassy”
  • Ownership changed through the 70s, 80s and 90s, until 2004 when it was transferred to the Wellington City Council
  • 120,000 people turn out for the red carpet premiere of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • The Embassy hosts the world premiere of The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

Complementing the Embassy is an equally charming establishment. Tucked away under the theatre the Black Sparrow bar is a shout out to the 1930s and a time when Bukowski drank and wrote for the Black Sparrow publishing house. It’s a stylish little bar that thanks to an art deco look done right and solid cocktail list, punches well above its weight.

The Embassy Theatre is 10 Kent Terrace, Mount Victoria, only a short 5-minute walk from QT Museum Wellington.

words by niall roeder

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