The name’s Bellinger – Jacques Bellinger.
Or at least that’s what my secret-agent legend claims as I go deep undercover at Montenegro’s Casino Royale. My mission? Top secret. My motives? That’d be telling.
But my end goal? Well, that’s getting through one of Secret Cinema’s immersive experiences without completely embarrassing myself – and at their new take on Daniel Craig’s James Bond debut, Casino Royale, I found an engaging, if imperfect, way to do that.
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If you’ve ever been to a Secret Cinema event before, you’ll know the drill, but if not, here’s a quick primer.
The immersive cinema experience essentially entails you being given a character and getting plonked in a well-realised version of the film’s universe (built at a “secret London location” that I won’t reveal). When inside you can watch actors re-enact scenes, explore various areas or actively join in with the “storyline” made up for the experience, which usually involves tracking down various characters who send you to talk to yet more characters.
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Later, fans will actually sit and watch the film they’ve been living, accompanied by real-life body doubles carrying out some of the film’s biggest moments alongside the screen.
Unsurprisingly, Casino Royale continues this structure, but what’s interesting is that it feels a lot more natural than similar investigations and spying missions I’ve undertaken in Secret Cinema’s Star Wars and Blade Runner adventures.
Obviously the idea of aliases, spying and sneaking about the place in funky clothes is a central part of the James Bond ethos in a way it isn’t for many other movie franchises, and subsequently I found it much easier to let loose and enjoy myself when chatting to the in-character actors (who also, blessedly, feel less aggressively wacky in Bond’s world).
The content fits the context and overall made for one of the better Secret Cinema experiences.
Elsewhere, it was hard to find too much to fault. The food, while an extra expense on top of an already-pricey ticket, was very tasty, as were the free-flowing drinks. When we came to take our seats in the re-purposed Casino ballroom to watch the film (making for a smooth transition between the experience and the movie) the ample, spaced out seating made for a great viewing experience (though fans of a quiet movie experience might be better off at home with the DVD – it was quite a rowdy atmosphere).
The areas (which again, I won’t describe at Secret Cinema’s request) were also well-designed and fun to look around, and definitely worth exploring – though compared to other recent Secret Cinemas it did seem like a slightly more limited set of spaces, which could mean fans who arrive early end up kicking their heels a bit once they’ve cleared the more obvious attractions.
My problem, though, was actually the opposite. Choosing to arrive at one of the later optional starting times at a nearby Tube station, then directed to wait to speak to a character in a bar for around 20 minutes, I then found I had barely any opportunity to look around the experience before the film started, and after it had concluded there was no real opportunity to continue exploring.
While I obviously could have arrived earlier if I chose, the event’s remote location made that difficult, and the culture of secrecy around the event meant that I had no idea I wasn’t using my time effectively. Without knowing when the film was due to start or that I didn’t HAVE to follow the storyline directed by the Secret Cinema actors, I missed out on much of the exploration and gameplay I had been looking forward to, leading to a lot of frustration by the end of the night.
Still, overall Casino Royale made a good impression on me. Maybe it was that the theme better fit the film than other Secret Cinemas, or maybe it was just that I wasn’t there long enough for the novelty to wear off, but by the end I felt truly immersed in the world of Bond - even if it wasn’t quite double-0 heaven.