One of the absolute best things about Leeds is the cool unique places and businesses (often run by very cool, independent people) that make it actually feel like Leeds and not some other, faceless, impersonal city. Every city has a few of these gems and I always try to seek them out on a visit, but there’s nothing like the ones back home that have weaved themselves into the fabric of my life and memories, but still feel special and exciting.
One such place for me is the Hyde Park Picture House, a gorgeous art house cinema which opened in 1914 and was saved from closure by Leeds City Council in 1989. The moment I glimpse the lit up façade of the Grade II listed building as I walk down Brudenell Road, I’m ready for a genuine cinema experience. It’s just streets ahead of anything with seventeen screens, lino floors and a fleet of teenagers asking if you’d like a large popcorn for just £18.26. Instead, you’ll find smiling faces, plush red carpets, bowls of sugar cubes and free biscuits with your tea, and fair trade chocolate for sale. Our tickets were a measly £6, compared to Vue’s £8.15, or £9.85 if you want a seat bigger than those on aeroplanes. Sure, there’s only one film on, but it could be literally anything – a cult classic with a live orchestra, the latest Bollywood offering, or the brilliant documentary I saw last night.
The Imposter tells a remarkable true story. When 13 year old Nicholas Barclay goes missing in 1994, his family are devastated, and instantly launch a search campaign. His picture is plastered to the wall of every diner in Texas, but without any leads at all the case soon turns cold. When a young man claiming to be Nicholas turns up on the streets of Spain, it seems like a miracle – but is it too good to be true? Would three years away from home give Nicholas a noticeable foreign accent, and how have his eyes changed from blue to brown?
Director Bart Layton plays his cards close to his chest for the first hour, but the stunning denouement left me breathless. I walked out of the cinema questioning every missing person documentary I’d ever seen, and asking myself questions about identity and lies and bias and secrets and empathy and denial. For the main part, the film was made up of reconstructions with actors and interviews with the original cast of this bizarre story – the American ambassador to Spain, an FBI agent, the Barclay family and the young man at the heart of the drama, who is captivating but completely untrustworthy. There were also just one or two home videos that slammed this whole thing home for me, that were almost painful to watch and difficult to understand. As the story moves forward, I start to find myself feeling confused, uncomfortable, a little foolish.
I can’t really say more: it’s a film that should be experienced with as little fore-knowledge as possible. It’s on at the Hyde Park Picture House until 30th August, so move quickly!