The greatest sporting event created by man (who else?) is in London. Right now. After years and years of planning, construction, and politicians grappling with annoyed transport workers and miserable cohorts of the British public, the capital of England (and perhaps of the world) is now home to the summer Olympics. I’m immensely excited about everything that’s going on in my hometown, even if at the time of writing my country has only got one medal. And a couple of days ago we were treated to a spectacular piece of television that was not quite enough to rival the ambitious antics of the Chinese four years earlier, but certainly something that would make us feel proud – the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, directed by none other than Danny Boyle.
I was in Cornwall when it actually happened but managed to watch a recording the next day (which nonetheless allowed me to skip past the LONG parade of participating countries). It certainly seemed to be unlike any opening ceremony that came before it. Although it didn’t quite have the ‘massed choreography of the entire chinese army‘ (Charlie Higson, Twitter) it was a bold, beautiful, and supremely funny show that prompted a positive global reaction. It began by showing an intriguing part of our history, when the industrial revolution ruined the kind of small rural village ideals glimpsed in the first few minutes. Huge towers not unlike those in Ikea in Croydon rose up from the floor as smoke billowed above the stadium, and a sideburned Kenneth Branagh grinned and recited some Shakespeare (who could have expected that?). The drummers in their thousands pounded loudly and men in top hats and suits danced and saluted the new industry – it was an intense and fantastic opening, but it was only going to get better.
The next thing we knew, Daniel Craig was riding in a London Taxi to Buckingham Palace, getting out and ascending a carpeted staircase. As he went into an ornately fashioned room, he cleared his throat and Queen Elizabeth II, 85 years old, turned round instantly. ‘Good evening, Mr. Bond’, she declared, before following him out of the room and into a helicopter. Off they rode to the Olympic stadium, and then they jumped out, parachutes decorated with the Union Jack, while the James Bond theme blared throughout the stadium. Obviously the Queen didn’t actually do that, but the fact that she was game enough to star in the pre-made film proved this to be one of the greatest parts of the evening, and as I was catapulted back to my youth, largely spent watching James Bond films, a broad smile extended across my face. It was one of those moments which highlighted London’s Opening Ceremony as a very different one, one that wouldn’t take itself as seriously as those preceding it, which is what made it truly special.
The rest of the evening was filled with spectacles that were undoubtedly British. The NHS was celebrated with real doctors and nurses dancing to a toe-tapping beat, while children’s literature was also heralded as one of Britain’s great strengths, with J.K. Rowling reading a passage from J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan‘, as a large puppet-like Voldemort loomed over the audience. The forging of the 5 rings was a brilliant throwback to J.R.R. Tolkien, and the performance of none other than Mr. Bean during the Chariots of Fire scene left me nearly suffocated with laughter. One of the best parts for me was the montage of British music, throughout the ages. Music is so important in Boyle’s films, especially Trainspotting, and no expense was spared here – I loved spotting the Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Stones and Kinks songs that were played in the fast-moving celebration of our music culture. It was all so individual, so personal, so proud and so moving, and Paul McCartney’s performance of Hey Jude did NOT ruin the entire evening – 1. He’s 70 and 2. He’s a Beatle. Stop complaining, all of you.
Anticipation continued to mount after the countries had finished parading – who was going to light the Olympic cauldron? We saw David Beckham, that national hero who did so much to bring the Olympics to London, carrying it in a boat along the Thames… promptly it was passed on to Sir Steve Redgrave, who brought it into the stadium. Then, we were greeted with one of the greatest surprises of the night – several up-and-coming athletes, only notified of what they were doing a week before, carrying the torch each in around the stadium. It showed that Britain was committed to carrying its next generation on its shoulders and was a very touching, warm moment as these seven young people lit the ‘flame of unity’.
So if there’s one thing (or in fact, several) that could be taken from the night, it was this: that Britain has a very proud sense of humour and is not afraid to display it. It also showed the dramatic idiosyncrasies of the UK in general, with self-referential gags and a healthy sense of the absurd carried throughout. We may not quite have reached the heights of China four years ago, but do we really need to? Danny Boyle has crafted an intelligent, visually stunning show that has broken records in terms of Olympic viewership in both Britain and the USA, and acted as a brilliant leeway into all the events that are happening over the next two weeks. The only things I have left to say are, ‘Go Team GB!’, and ‘Danny Boyle for a knighthood?’