If you go down to the Odeon Panton Street today …

Thursday December 8th 2011

If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter lately (and follow the same sort of people that I do) you’ll probably have heard about Margaret by now. Kenneth Lonergan’s eagerly awaited follow-up to his 2000 indie hit You Can Count On Me was shot over three months in 2006, but thanks to an all-out post-production clusterfuck (which ended with Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker being drafted in to work on the edit) it only reached UK shores last Friday.

On one screen.

That’s right: in their infinite wisdom, Fox decided that the spiritual home of this critically acclaimed, utterly accessible, Matt Damon-featuring indie drama was the 133-seat upstairs screen at Odeon’s grotty Panton Street venue. Located just around the corner from the ‘proper’ Odeons in Leicester Square, it’s basically where theatrical releases go to die.

Luckily, people have been taking up the cause in a big way over the last seven days, coming from far and wide to take their chances with Panton Street’s regularly sold-out 8pm screening of the film (its 150 minute runtime means just one evening showing per day). In the era of preview screenings, extended trailers and ‘Demand it!’ regional programming, it’s rare that there’s any kind of cachet attached to seeing a film in its week of release. Margaret, on the other hand, is already turning into something of a film hipster rite of passage, with its unlikely venue only enhancing its must-see status.

The Panton Street staff seem fairly bemused by the sudden replacement of their normal clientele — confused tourists — with an onslaught of Curzon Soho types, but don’t worry: no effort has been made to clean the place up or make the experience any more ‘alternative’ than it would normally be. The floors are still sticky, the screen is still tiny and the box office guy is still liable to stare at you blankly if you pronounce the film’s title as intended, with a stress on the last syllable.

All of which adds to the feeling that you’re witnessing something unique: some strange transitory phenomenon that happens to centre around an Anna Paquin movie — and one that was made five years ago at that. Watching Margaret is a little like stepping into the very-recent past, and it’s all the more powerful for it. Consider for a second that this is a new release movie in which Paquin plays a 17-year-old. Its producers include Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, both of whom died over three years ago. It’s technically the big screen debut of Olivia Thirlby, who’s now starring in sci-fi movies with Emile Hirsch.

Most importantly though, Margaret is also totally brilliant. Complex and elusive, the film weaves so many utterly believable and often devastating narrative strands over it’s two and a half hour runtime that you start to wish Lonergan had got his way and released his initial four hour cut (from which, I can only assume, most of the film’s entirely unfamiliar promotional stills are sourced). Paquin gives a career-best turn as ferocious adolescent Lisa, but tiny appearances from Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick and Kieran Culkin (amongst others) are equally well-observed, despite screen time on a par with most of the ‘characters’ in New Year’s Eve (in which Broderick also appears).

Thanks to overwhelmingly positive word of mouth, the film expands to ten London cinemas tomorrow. There’s no word yet on a nationwide release yet but chances are it’ll hit other major cities in a week or two. For ultimate cool points though, get down to tonight’s final single-screen Panton Street showing — 8pm sharp.

It’s gonna be like Sex Pistols at the 100 Club.