Bingo halls are a hidden world of mysterious rituals and unfamiliar jargon: singles, doubles, checks and sweating. They are also places of tight friendships spanning lifetimes and the women who are regulars there have known each other through thick and thin.
Big Night at the Bingo takes us to the Westway bingo hall on the Falls Road in the heart of West Belfast for one of its busiest nights of the year as the prize money is bumped up into four figures. Filmed with unprecedented access, we see the dramas of winning and losing up close as the day unfolds.
While the world outside is a place of tough working lives and demanding family commitments, inside the Westway all is calm as numbers are drawn at random for the captive audience. We meet the regular players who come back day after day in hope of that elusive win. Serenely composed Eilish was taught how to play by her granny when she was in her teens. Hard-working Margaret juggles her bingo alongside working in Asda, a college course, school pick-ups and supporting her husband as he deals with health problems. The irrepressible Kate says she never wins – so instead she prepares an impromptu birthday party for her friend. Finally, Eileen is long in the tooth and casts a cold eye on the numbers as they come up – she knows this is all a game of chance in which you can do nothing to affect the outcome: “If it’s for you it’s for you”. But tonight, among the hundreds of players squeezing into the hall, a lucky two will go home with a thousand pounds in cash.