"I hope it feels charming rather than really annoying." Danny Boyle
I knew from the moment we saw the cute puffy clouds floating around the Olympic Stadium arena, (acknowledging our obsession with the UK's unpredictable weather) that we were in for something entirely British. This was going to be eccentric, genius, possibly bonkers but definitely unique - the character of the best in creativity from our country.
Danny Boyle – the key figure in the Cool Britannia's wave of 1990s cultural reinvigoration, with his first films Shallow Grave and Trainspotting – was never going to settle for standard-issue pomp and pageantry. Zhang Yimou’s dazzling Beijing opening in 2008 was about automaton-like synchronicity and majestic spectacle, Boyle’s epic opera of social and cultural history was a vibrant work of unfettered imagination that celebrated a nation, but even more so, its people..
Before the kickoff, farm animals milled in pens on the grassy fields of a village green, as agricultural workers tended their veggie patches, a waterwheel slowly turned, maypole dancers twirled and cricketers in period uniforms played a gentlemanly match. Dominating the visual field was a replica of Glastonbury Hill. Its grassy slopes – dotted with dandelions and daisies – evoked the British pastoral tradition (as well as Middle Earth and Tellytubby
land) with a simplicity that grew even more beautiful as the show progressed. A lone boy soprano sang William Blake’s “Jerusalem” , which set a serene tone and weight. The by the end became home to the flags of the 204 participating countries.
Chimneys of the Industrial Revolution
Boyle then turned sombre with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, heralded by Kenneth Branagh in top coat and tall hat, playing pioneering British civil and mechanical engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Accompanied by dozens of drummers, Branagh read the “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises” speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which was the inspiration for Boyle’s Isles of Wonder title and the show’s incorporation of dreams as a central element.
As the farmers and villagers rolled up the turf, the scene made way for
towering smokestacks that sprouted from the ground as the arena filled with factory workers, suffragettes, war veterans. Blacksmiths toiled away at their furnaces to forge the Olympic rings, which were then hoisted above the stadium, raining down a shower of golden sparks in one of the show’s most awe-inspiring moments.
The biggest surprise and possibly the most memorable event in the entire ceremony was an actual acting cameo from HRH The Queen herself. She greeted a tuxedo-clad and eternally gorgeous Daniel Craig as he marched up the corridors of Buckingham Palace trailed by the monarch’s pet corgis: “Good evening, Mr. Bond.” she said, convincingly, (no wooden acting for our Queenie). A sly switch with a body double followed as they boarded a chopper, with her majesty dropped into the Stadium dangling from a Union Jack parachute to the 007 theme music. Genius!
The next segment which followed, was dedicated to the NHS and Great Ormond Street children's hospital. The hospital has been largely financed by royalties from J M Barrie's Peter Pan, an exceprt from which was read out by J K Rowling. What followed next was in recognition of the importance of Britain's input into children's literature. We'd seen earlier, characters from Wind in the Willows, Winne the Pooh and Harry Potter. Kids were now being tucked up under their illuminated duvets, their bedtime reading conjured villains from Cruella de Ville to Captain Hook to the Queen of Hearts to Voldemort, all of these nightmarish oversized monsters eventually banished by a gorgeous flock of Mary Poppinses swooping down, holding umbrellas aloft. They then proceeded to `tuck them in' their illuminated beds - one of my favourite moments in an evening full of favourite moments.
In amongst all this was a nod to the British film industry and its depiction of sports. The iconic Vangelis theme from Chariots of Fire was led by Rowan tkinson in Mr. Bean guise, hammering away at a single synthesizer note while dreaming of his own athletic glory. This managed simultaneously to provide a daffy centerpiece while acknowledging the vital role of British humor in the popular culture – fart joke included.
Among the pearls of the evening, galvanizing use was made of The Clash’s “London Calling” and The Jam’s “Going
Underground.” The third element to the evening served as a decade-by-decade salute to the British music
industry. From The Who and The Rolling Stones through The Kinks and The Beatles and then on into the glam-rock years with Mud, David Bowie and Queen, the choices were wonderful. The Specials popped up, as did more Pistols as we moved into the punk era, then came New Order, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Soul To Soul, The Eurythmics, The Prodigy and Amy Winehouse - pure bliss. There were many left out, but then where to start with a country so full of musical talent.
The concluding fireworks backed by Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse”, were truly spectacular. David Beckham was seen belting up the Thames by speedboat (another nod and wink to Bond), delivering the final torch. The Queen then announced formally that the 2012 London Olympics were now open and all heaven was let loose with the most dramatic and spectacular fireworks this country has ever seen. I watched the fireworks from the hill outside my flat which is over 5 miles away. A truly spectacular and inpspiring opening.
With thanks to: David Rooney from `The Hollywood Reporter'