TONIGHT, I have a hot date with James Bond. I’ll be in the cinema, sitting in the dark, surrounded by hundreds of other people, soaking up No Time to Die, all two hours, 43 minutes of it.

It won’t matter to me whether it turns out to be Daniel Craig’s most memorable rendition of the role. Rami Malek doesn’t need to be the best Bond baddie ever.

It will just be exhilarating to sit on the plush seats, sensing and sharing the excitement of the crowd as the lights dim.

For once, I might even relish the rustle of popcorn, the crackle of sweetie wrappers, because they are precious reminders of the presence of others, sweet relief from the socially curtailed lives we have been forced to lead for extended periods over the last 18 months.

Each sell-out screening of this latest Bond title is a gesture of optimism, evidence that many people want to move on after Covid.

Every ticket sold is life-enhancing evidence of how we yearn to get back to the high points of experiencing life in the flesh, not second best on Zoom.

No Time to Die symbolises a thrilling return to something approaching normality for beleaguered cinema chains, an injection of confidence for the global film industry, which has been so badly hobbled by lockdowns.

In 2020, the revenue of the UK cinema sector, plunged by over three-quarters from 2019 levels.

How good then to hear the financial media report that the values of shares in the major cinema chains have already soared with the film’s release. Cineworld’s share price is up by 11%, for instance.

We know that James Bond saves the world over and again. This year he has a role in fact as well as fiction: putting cinemas back centre stage in our cultural lives.

And I believe that Commander Bond can do the job again and hand us a happy ending, despite the challenges.

A chorus of Jeremiahs opines that cinemas will be replaced by streaming. Why go out to the cinema when you can watch the same film from your settee on platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime?

I can tell them why. A shrunken screen. Tedious hours of trawling through over-familiar or unappealing titles. Home cinema is a second-rate, emotionally depleted substitute for a film screening in a proper cinema MGM did hold discussions with Netflix and Apple about releasing No Time To Die directly on to a streaming platform, but in the end MGM backed producer Barbara Broccoli who held out against pressure to bypass a theatre release.“Not for us”, was Ms Broccoli’s verdict.

“I think we’ve learned many things during this 18-month period and certainly one of them is the sense of community, that we need people, we’re social creatures, and we need each other”, she said.

We do indeed. Like concerts, opera, theatre, festivals of literature, the buzz of a film screening as part of a live audience enriches the experience.

And film, above all other art forms, delivers the opium of escapism.

A visit to the cinema hands us a temporary opportunity to forget all the struggles and nagging worries of daily life by immersing ourselves in another world for a few hours, at very little cost.

Think of the masses during the Great Depression who flocked to cinemas to watch films like the glitzy Gold Diggers of 1933. They offered people respite from reality, the distraction of a world of fantasy. Who couldn’t do with that at the moment?

Apparently in 1930, more than 65% of the population went to the cinema weekly.

My grandmother most certainly did, and as soon as we could be relied on to sit still and watch a film quietly, she, or my mother, took us along too. A trip to the cinema was a weekly event for me growing up, a lifetime habit that only faltered with lockdown.

This get-them-young cinema tradition lives on in the noisy “Big Scream” parent-and-baby screenings run by Picturehouse Cinemas.

Cinema is the most popular, most accessible art form. Its appeal cuts through to all classes and all ages. But like all self-serving commentators who preach doctrines of inevitability, those ‘streaming is the end of the movie theatre’ pundits foretell the death of cinemas.

They would not shed a tear if architectural and cultural landmarks like the Glasgow Film Theatre, Edinburgh’s Cameo, or the Bo’ness Hippodrome closed their doors forever, or if the multiplexes that prop up ailing retail parks were shuttered, because they have their own technocratic agenda.

Their market is passive consumers who can be profitably spoon-fed from the lazy comfort prisons of their own homes. Sign up to our package. Let us frame your cultural life.

Those who tell us that cinemas will inevitably disappear claim to foretell the future because they want to control it.

So they talk down the enduring appeal of cinemas, and their financial health. But box office trends, pre-Covid, put a lie to their gloomy predictions.

Pre-Covid, the early weeks and months of 2020 saw cinemas outperform both 2018 and 2019, the two most successful years for UK cinema-going since 1970.

I went to cinemas whenever they were open over the last 18 months and marvelled at the resilience of filmmakers.

I saw a stream of engrossing, well-made films: the gripping Stillwater with Matt Damon; heart-tugging Nowhere Special with James Norton and the sensational child actor Daniel Lamont; the troubling but ultimately uplifting Herself, with Clare Dunn; dreamy Summerland with Gemma Arterton.

Covid mandates radically circumscribed our existence. Now I see a set of Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls as a visual image for our future.

We can allow our lives to be shrunk by fear and control to the tiniest dimensions of the smallest doll, or insist that for they are made whole again with the full set.

If you choose the latter option, then a ticket for No Time To Die is an obvious place to start.