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11 big-screen drive-ins in Essex and beyond

With social distancing de rigueur right now, the arts industry has had to find new ways to keep us entertained this summer. Cue a flurry of big-screen drive-in offerings - and our edit of the best in Essex and beyond. Tell me about it, stud...

Pull up to my bumper, baby! The 2020 drive-in has moved on from your basic 1980’s teen movie. Instead, brace yourself for ginormous LED screens, stand-up comedy, live DJ sets and roller-skating waiters laden with popcorn (be patient, I’m only just getting hang of my blades). You ready for the movie?

Nightflix Drive-In Cinema

WHAT? A classic drive-in cinema, complete with 40ft screen, American drive-thru-style diner dishes and a seriously impressive movie menu to boot.

WHERE? Colchester’s Tollgate West, just off the A12.

SHOWING: Catch an incredibly youthful looking Leo (DiCap) and Claire (Danes) in Romeo + Juliet on 9 July, Dirty Dancing on 10 July, The Rocky Horror Picture Show on 11 July, and La La Land on 14 July. But be quick: tickets are selling super fast.

Car Park Party

WHAT? A safe and socially distanced night out from the comfort of your front seat with live comedy, theatre and karaoke nights. 

WHERE? The event is popping up in seven locations up and down the country but hit Chelmsford City Racecourse from 31 July–1 August to catch the Essex viewings. Book tickets here. Or, head over to the Muddy Essex Instagram account for your chance to win two parking spots!

SHOWING: The entertainment includes comedy nights (world-famous Comedy Store are supplying the laughs), live theatre (award-winning Birmingham Stage Company are performing kiddie favourite Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, which seems rather apt in these times!) and karaoke (choose from 80s, family movies and musicals). 

The Luna Drive-In Cinema

WHAT? The ever-popular Luna Cinema is back with a drive-in makeover. Expect giant HD LED screens, state-of-the-art digital in-car speakers and stunning backdrops. We love the sound of the Luna Bar – order food and drink from your car by scanning the QR code on the front of the in-car speaker you’re given and hey presto, they’ll roller-skate it over to you. Toilets and medics are on site too (just in case you get overwhelmed from a 30ft Ryan Gosling).

WHERE?  Stunning 18th century Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Knebworth House in Herts and Warwick Castle. 

SHOWING: Blenheim Palace is hosting 14 fabulous films from Rocketman (10 July) to Pretty Woman (12 July) and JoJo Rabbit (13 July) and A Star is Born (16 July). Doors open at 8.30pm and the party starts at 9.30pm. 

Tom Kerridge’s Drive & Dine Theatre

WHAT? With Pub in the Park cancelled this year, the Michelin-starred Marlow marvel chef has instead organised a drive-in cinema experience, complete with a top-notch foodie offering (we wouldn’t expect anything less). 

WHERE? The event is popping up in eight locations including The Henley Showground (Marlow), Luton Hoo Estate (Luton, nr St Albans), Warwick and Bath

SHOWING: There are 11 films on the Marlow movie reel including La La Land (14 Jul), 1917 (16 Jul), Back to the Future (19 Jul) and Grease (16 Jul)! There’ll also be a comedy set from Mark Watson’s Carpool Comedy Club (18 July). Tickets are on sale now and are selling like hot chocolate-glazed choux buns (well we are talking Michelin star quality here!), so snap a parking spot pronto. 

Reels and Wheels UK

WHAT? Four full days of screenings of childhood movies, family favourites and bucketfuls of popcorn (obvs). 

WHERE? Willen Lake, part of The Parks Trust in Milton Keynes.

SHOWING: There’s something for everyone with 16 films on the movie reel from 9–12 July including Dirty Dancing (9 July), Jurassic Park (9 July), A Star Is Born (10 July), Toy Story (10 July), La La Land (11 July) and Mamma Mia (12 July).

Stoke Place

WHAT? A brand new cinema under the stars, set in 26 acres of stunning parkland, with classic American sweet treats and snacks available to pre-order. We’re talking Monterey Jack cheeseburgers, hotdogs and skinny fries – all essential food groups covered. 

WHERE? The grounds of stunning 17th century country mansion Stoke Place in Slough. 

SHOWING: Take your pick from The Greatest Showman (10 July) and Dirty Dancing (11 July). You can park up at 8.30pm and the films will start at 9.30pm when the sun sets. 

To book, email enquiries@stokeplace.co.uk or call 01753 534 790.

Cotswold Drive-In Cinema

WHAT? A brand new drive-in for the ‘Wolds – yippee. Cotswold Drive-In Cinema lends you in-car bluetooth speakers and has wood-fired pizza, popcorn, ice-cream and drinks on demand – all served through your window. There are ‘luxury loos’ (no idea, but sound good). And prior to the movie you can even stretch your legs and go to the bar to get yourself a drink from the ‘specialist’ gin bar (socially distanced of course). And the best bit? Err, only a pre-movie live set from Ibiza DJ Gary Mack to get you in the mood, and fireworks to top off the night. 

WHERE? At the Showground at Ascott-under-Wychwood.

SHOWING: Summer dates TBC, so watch this space.

Rooftop Film Club

WHAT? London-based Rooftop Film Club are switching it up for the summer and instead of their usual outdoor cinema offering are recreating a retro drive in with a whopping 40ft LED screen (and loos in case you need to go during the trailers!). 

WHERE? Parked up at a palace, no less! The screenings will be held on the grounds of iconic Grade II-listed Alexandra Palace, London. 

SHOWING: Where to start? From 4–31 July there’ll be two screenings a day, seven days a week with added family films on weekends. Our top picks include Grease, Back to the Future, Mean Girls, The Goonies, Up, Black Panther and family favourite Sing (because who can resist Matthew McConaughey as a cartoon Koala bear?). NHS workers go FREE. 

The Drive In 

WHAT? A 1950s nostalgia fest with great films, classic cinema refreshments and stand-up comedy. The event is fully contact free with snacks ordered through an app and delivered to your car

WHERE? The giant LED screen is popping up in North London (Troubadour Meridian Water, Edmonton) so defiantly doable for an evening drive over. 

SHOWING: There are 54 screenings running from 4 Jul–10 Aug including family favourites Paddington (12 July) and The Goonies (12 July).

At the Drive In

WHAT? At the Drive In is coming to 12 cities across the UK this summer and we love its quirkiness and family vibe. Expect the fabulous-sounding (after 7847 weeks of homeschooling) silent car discos plus bingo, family games and stand-up comedy pre-performance, plus a food delivery app that lets you order hot and cold treats to your car via rollerskating waiters. There’s also a registration plate ID system which means a handy ticket-less experience and of course all cars will be parked two metres apart.

WHERE? Bristol Airport and Birmingham.

SHOWING: Head to Birmingham (location TBA) between 15-19 July to see eight films, from the PG-rated Grease sing-a-long and Toy Story to the 15+ rated Joker. Or go south to Bristol between 9-13 September for Back to the Future and A Star is Born, taking place at Bristol Airport, which is brilliant because you can persuade yourself you’re really on the way to Malaga (*sigh*). Tickets start from £35 per car.

The Alfresco Film Company

WHAT? A selection of great films in stunning settings, Alfresco’s rescehduled late summer dates are still going ahead (subject to any changes – stay tuned), but rumours are film goers will get socially distanced deckchairs and all the 2-metre apart snack and food services, along with a giant LED HD screen, of course.

WHERE?  Bristol, Worcester and the gorgeous setting of Cowley Manor in Cheltenham.

SHOWING: Head to the Mercure Bristol North Grange Hotel on 28 Aug for some old-school Dirty Dancing and at Stanbrook Abbey Hotel in Worcester on 21 Aug. The showing of Pretty Woman at Cowley Manor in Cheltenham now takes place on 4 Sept. Get booking! If you want your own private, pop-up experience you can even hire Alfresco to come to your own back garden and set up a 13ft screen (from £400+ VAT) – the ultimate non-drive, drive-in. Book here. Your friends will love you forever.

Open Air Film and Chill

WHAT? An outdoor extravaganza of socially distanced seating and cinema snacks. Movie lovers are encouraged to bring their own picnics and alcohol or drinks to this one, so stock up on the hot chicken wings and Moet and designate that driver right now.

WHERE? Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucester’s Hempstead Meadows and Worcester’s Colewall Park.

SHOWING: Head to Cheltenham on 8 August for The Greatest Showman, and Harry Potter at Gloucester on 18 August. We’re also loving their brand new ‘Cinema in a Box’ experience costing £150 – you just choose the film, they’ll drop everything off, and they come back to pick it up the next day. 

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