Class conscious - Andrew Martin finds class war in the cinema

The cinema has become the scene of ugly, vicious class confrontations

''Please switch off your mobile phones," reads the warning before the film is shown, and in my opinion it would be a good idea to add the words, ". . . and shut-up." There is a certain kind of middle-class person who gets very steamed up by people talking in cinemas, and I'm one of them. I usually move a couple of times before settling on what looks like a quiet seat, and I seldom go to see a film that's likely to be fully booked, because then I'll be trapped, usually in front of a chair-kicker or a person who talks before the adverts, talks during the adverts, talks over the film's opening credits (I'm becoming tense just writing this), talks during the opening shots of the film, in which there may not be any dialogue, and continues talking when the dialogue begins.

Then there are other people who graciously break off from their own conversations during the on-screen dialogue, but then feel it is their right to talk during the interludes between dialogue. They see this as a good compromise between aesthetic appreciation and having a chat with their mates.

I avoid certain cinemas altogether, and seek out ones where the audience is likely to be quite genteel. One such is the Everyman in Hampstead, one of the few cinemas I know that has a wine list. Going to the Everyman is like watching a film in a very plush Hampstead flat. There's a gallery where, for a supplementary charge, you can watch the film from a leather armchair with a drink brought to you by a waiter.

Yet there was a punch-up in the gallery at the Everyman last week, when a couple trying to watch Bridget Jones told three young women (all apparently "Hampstead types") to be quiet. One of the women replied that, if the couple wanted peace and quiet, "they should go to the opera", then hit the complainant. The duty manager, the complainant complained, seemed "a bit out of his depth". He probably didn't realise that kung-fu would be a useful skill to possess at the Everyman.

Is bad behaviour, and class tension, a growing problem in cinemas? I think so. A root cause may be the overlap between the culture of domestic video or DVD-watching, and cinema-going. Half the people in any given cinema probably forget that they're not at home in the living-room watching their 86cm flat widescreen TV.

If you go into Blockbuster - which I most certainly never do, although I sometimes look through the window - you see the great bags of popcorn for sale, the Coke bottles, the buckets of Maltesers. You are encouraged to pretend that you are in the cinema when at home, so is it any surprise that people also do the opposite?

The one great advantage of watching films at home is that you're free to make a few calls on your mobile, or fire off a few texts to your mates. This practice, too, is seeping into cinema-going. I watched a preview of The Incredibles last week, and a mobile rang out twice. And there was the usual, relentless susurration of sweet wrappers, like the crackling of a fire, especially from the family behind me. There were two children, and the youngest kept saying, "I'm hungry, I'm hungry, I'm hungry", which could only be checked by his mother stuffing another sweet in his mouth. He then started saying, "I want to go the toilet", on a very regular basis.

After he'd said it about a dozen times, I turned around and said, "Will you shut up?" - at which point his mother locked eyes with me. Every time I looked back she was still staring, with a look that seemed to be becoming increasingly murderous, quite eclipsing the drama of The Incredibles, and eventually forcing me to take my own brood out of the cinema during the climactic scene for fear of an Everyman-style confrontation.