The adventure of the Institut français began thanks to the determination of a young 19-year-old Frenchwoman: Marie d’Orliac. With the immediate support of British personalities such as Lord and Lady Askwith, Mr and Mrs Emile Mond, and French public figures including the French Ambassador Paul Cambon, d’Orliac created the Université des Lettres françaises in 1910. From the very start, the new institution set out to promote the best of French culture, encourage exchanges and teach the French language. Three years later, the institution was integrated with the University of Lille under the name «Institut français du Royaume-Uni».
The Institut français, today directed by Mrs Laurence Auer, exists to promote French language and culture, and to encourage cross-cultural exchange and cultural diversity. Comprising a language centre, multi-media library, a cinema, Ciné lumière and a French Bistro, it welcomes thousands of people each year.
At the heart of the Institut français’ mission is the teaching of the French language. The language centre, which attracts 7000 students every year, offers traditional language courses as well as business French and courses on various aspects of French culture and current affairs.
Audiences at the Institut can keep up to date with the latest French thinking and the most recent publications in French and English translation thanks to its extensive programme of talks, seminars and book launches. Visitors can also take part in debates with speakers from both sides of the Channel meeting regularly to discuss a wide variety of topics.
The multimedia library, a distinctive Grade II listed venue, is also a window on contemporary France and holds the largest free-access collection of French material in the UK, covering all aspects of French culture and society. Visitors can access about 60,000 items ranging from novels, comic books to feature films and magazines. A digital platform, to be officially launched in May, will allow audiences across the UK to access an extensive digital library.
Recently refurbished and reopened by Catherine Deneuve, Ciné lumière has established itself as one of London’s top repertory cinemas. With a particular emphasis on French, European and World cinema, its programme combines new releases, repertory screenings, previews and exclusive on-stage events attended by directors and actors. Recent guests include Stephen Frears, Sophie Marceau, Agnès Varda, Mathieu Amalric, Fanny Ardant and Patrice Chéreau.
The Institut occasionally showcases new musical talents and participates every year in the Exhibition Road Music Day, which attracts thousands of people each year.
The Institut also presents and supports external events, in collaboration with British partners, particularly in the visual and performing arts and promotes Franco-British academic cooperation.