FOR the best part of a century, it has been the heart and soul of the British film industry.
But this weekend, as the cinema community gathers for its annual round of tearful acceptance speeches from the winners and smiles through gritted teeth from everyone else, a coach and horses was being made ready to be driven through it.
Soho, the square mile of the West End between Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, is home to just about every film company to ever turn a sprocket, even if its “registered address” was little more than a PO Box.
It is, says Stephen Fry, who will tomorrow night step out as host for the British Academy Film Awards, the “authentic soul” of the industry and far from being a metropolitan enclave, “a magnet for the young, creative and open-minded around the country”.
But that could change under the government’s plans for the new train link, Crossrail 2, which would see two blocks of Soho demolished to make way for a new train station carrying twice as many people as King’s Cross.
Soho has had its ups and downs over the years, and in the Sixties and Seventies was the capital’s seediest sex district. But it is also Britain’s La La Land, a Hollywood-like magnet for producers and critics, and any film maker from Yorkshire who wanted to get his footage to an audience had first to book a screening in one of the preview theatres off Wardour Street.
Fry, who is chairman of the campaign group Save Soho, has urged filmgoers to sign a petition to save a “valuable cultural asset”.
Meanwhile, British hopefuls are looking to improve their success tomorrow night after three years in which American stars have taken the lion’s share of Baftas.
Emily Blunt, Andrew Garfield and Hugh Grant are among the home-grown stars vying for glory. Blunt has received a leading actress nomination for her role in The Girl On The Train, while Garfield is nominated for leading actor in Mel Gibson’s film, Hacksaw Ridge.
La La Land, a whimsical love story set not in Soho but Los Angeles, leads the nominations with 11 and will go head-to-head with I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s unflinching examination of life in the UK welfare system, for the best film Bafta.
Also in contention are the sci-fi movie Arrival, Casey Affleck’s melancholy Manchester By The Sea, and Moonlight, a coming of age story about a gay black man growing up in Miami.