ONE of the joys of my time at university was being the film reviewer for the student magazine. This meant going to the premieres of new releases every week sitting with four or five others in a practically empty cinema in Birmingham’s Odeon Cinema on New Street, a particularly apt venue given that the Odeon chain was founded in Birmingham in the 1920s by Oscar Deutsch, who named his chain Odeon as an acronym for “Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation”.

Having watched the film, the reviewers would gather in the cinema manager’s office. The film company paid for trays of sandwiches, which would be unwrapped and the drinks cabinet unlocked, and for the next few hours the reviewers would discuss the film and come to largely a common mind on its highs and lows as the food disappeared and the drinks cabinet emptied. It was an education to behold.

Earlier this week, Cineworld confirmed that that it would close all 127 of its cinemas in the UK and 536 sites in the US with up to 45,000 employees impacted by the decision. This unwelcome news was swiftly followed by the Odeon chain announcing it is to shut a quarter of its 120 cinemas during the week, moving to a weekend-only model from this Friday.

These announcements followed the news that the release of the new James Bond film “No Time to Die” has been delayed for the second time. Originally due for release in April of this year, the film was rescheduled for release next month only to be shelved once more until next April. Online wags have suggested that the film should now be retitled “No Chance to See”.

Before Covid-19 there was a view that the growth of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime could co-exist alongside a burgeoning film industry with the streaming giants providing not only a home for blockbusters that had passed through cinemas but also for commissioning and funding new films such as Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman.

However Covid restrictions have meant that the situation may now be reversed with new and original material being found on the small screen only, leaving cinemas with a double whammy of no original content to show and no ability to show whatever content they have.

If the 1980s pop song had it right and video killed the radio star, it may well be that in 2020 that the smart TV killed the cinema. Hollywood studios are faced with a bleak choice between lower revenues in the cinema by releasing films now or waiting until such a time when perhaps there will be so few cinemas left that a theatrical release will be doomed to economic failure.

It’s the kind of catch 22 that protagonists like James Bond are constantly faced with. The irony is the technology of Q branch, which often saves the day, is now becoming the very thing that might signal the death knell for our cinema industry.

  • Arun Arora is vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham