Wellington Scoop

James Bond and the pandemic

james bond

by Lindsay Shelton
I went to see Daniel Craig’s last film as James Bond at the Embassy the other night. The big 700 seat theatre was sold out – there were about 300 of us, spaced out in all directions.

A commercial on the big screen showed us the pattern for keeping separate from everyone else – no one in front, no one behind, no one to the left, no one to the right. (And now the film will begin, said this annoying message, which was then followed by fifteen minutes of advertising.)

We were all keeping our distance. We were also all wearing masks. Which was strange, as the Level 2 instructions don’t make masks compulsory – they say only that “attendees are encouraged to wear a face covering where possible.” In spite of such indecision, we had all got the message. We all wore our masks before, during and after No Time To Die. As did the staff.

The Level 2 rules say there is no restriction on the number of people who can attend an indoor event at a venue such as a cinema, as long as everyone can stay one metre apart. Which effectively imposes a limit on the numbers.

But only in New Zealand. For better or worse, it would be a different experience to see the latest James Bond film, which began its world-wide cinema release last week after being delayed for 18 months, in any other country.

It had its world premiere in London in the Royal Albert Hall – filled to capacity with 5000 people.

The New York Times, asking if James Bond could save the ailing UK cinema industry, ran a photo of the audience in a big London cinema on opening day – with every seat sold. No spacing. And no masks. There’s also a picture of a London cinema queue – hundreds of people, close together, no distancing, and no masks in sight.

Friends in London say the British are averse to being told what to do. Hence, no masks in crowded inside spaces such as cinemas. (In a country where the number of daily covid cases is now over 30,000, with more than 100 deaths every day.)

It was one of the biggest first weekends for any film released in England. Ever. Some London cinemas scheduled dozens of screenings every day. Tens of thousands of Britons, without masks.

A contrast to the tightly controlled and spaced-out release in Wellington.

The Wellington Film Festival begins its 50th annual event in the Embassy next month. Every year in the Embassy, it has sold out many sessions in the big 700-seat auditorium. If it has to follow the James Bond Level 2 pattern, it may only be able to sell half the usual number of seats. Leaving many festival goers unhappy at missing out. Should those who are able to get seats be happy that they’re able to share the big screen experience? Or should hopeful festivalgoers be hoping for Level One in November? With full houses and no spacing?

Photos from the Venice Film Festival a couple of months ago, and from the New York Film Festival at the weekend, show big auditoriums filled to capacity. No spacing. But the Italians and the Americans are wearing masks.

It’s all comparative, perhaps. Aucklanders can’t see films at all, because of Level 3, which has also caused the cancellation of the annual Auckland Film Festival, for the first time in its 53-year history. In Wellington, however, we can see James Bond on the biggest screen in town, even if half the seats are kept empty. And we can book next week for the film festival, with opening night (November 4) offering Jane Campion’s new film that was shot last year (during the pandemic) in Central Otago.

Will distancing be still required next month? Will masks still be recommended, or will they have been made compulsory? What will be New Zealand’s daily case numbers? And what level of vaccinations will have been reached by then? That’s a message that is absolutely clear – vaccinations are the most important tool in the continuing fight against covid and its delta variant.


  1. Dave B, 12. October 2021, 17:38

    Again and again, our government’s “go hard, go early” Covid-response has come in for questioning, critiquing and criticism, but I doubt there are many New Zealanders in October 2021 who are not quietly glad that the country followed the course that it did. We enjoyed over a year of near-normal living in a world that was far from normal everywhere else. Our Covid death-rate per head of population has been minimal compared with most places, our hospital services have never been overrun with infection cases, and we have never been subjected to the kind of panic-responses seen in other countries when things have got out of hand. The latest round of restrictions has been in response to the Delta outbreak. They quickly eliminated the spread outside of Auckland and even within Auckland they have largely contained it, despite the rule-breaking that has gone on.

    While some people might look enviously at the lifting of restrictions in other countries where Covid Delta is now being given free-rein to do its worst, we still remain largely free of it. I suspect that in a few months time, when we have transitioned into the next phase of the response once vaccination-rates are high enough, we will again be thankful that our government chose not to bow to pressure from certain sectors and put at risk the strategy that has served us so well. The temporary restriction on freedoms to attend packed cinemas etc is a small price to pay for the freedom we have from large-scale Delta-spread. The prognosis for countries that have chosen otherwise is as yet unknown. They may yet again be looking enviously at New Zealand’s response.

  2. K, 12. October 2021, 17:56

    It’s an interesting comparison with Reading Cinemas (operating in Lower Hutt and Porirua) which leave a gap between patrons in the row you sit in (so no one is sitting immediately to the left or right of you) but has no spacing between rows, meaning people are sitting directly in front of and behind you. I much prefer the Embassy method. Personally I hope they restrict cinema going to only those who are fully vaccinated from December 1st.

  3. Alana, 13. October 2021, 10:46

    The Film Festival has been the bright spot for so long in winter Wellington, and so good to see that it can go ahead – at this point – for another season, even if the seating is limited. The line up is spectacular, again. But COVID changes our expectations every day so I’m resorting to the time honoured “fingers crossed” optimism and hope to see you all there behind a box of popcorn!

  4. Tim Jones, 15. October 2021, 17:18

    They should have made an interactive Bond movie where, when an audience member wants a nap, they can make Bond take a nap too. “Limited Time To Snooze” strikes me as a good title for the next Bond movie 🙂 [via twitter]

  5. Ian, 16. October 2021, 8:52

    Sorry Alana: non researched evidence tells me that hiding behind a box of popcorn will not fend off the virus. Popcorn eaters are more likely to be the ‘undosed’.


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