London makes all the right choices with impressive, madcap ceremony
OLYMPICS:CHOOSE LIFE! Choose a job. Choose the biggest and most expensive television show on earth to dream up.
Last night at Olympic Park marked full circle for Danny Boyle, the chronically modest Lancastrian (with the Ballinasloe mum!) whose job it was to interpret England’s potted history with the biggest pageant London has ever seen.
In grand Olympic tradition, the opening ceremony was unabashedly corny and dripping with aspirations for a better world. But it did contain a little of the barbed humour which Boyle employed all those years ago when he was directing Trainspotting, his low-budget, antic caper about heroin addicts. Last night, with a live audience which included Queen Elizabeth and James Bond, he offered a vision of a more green and pleasant land.
If they wanted to get to the heart of the British national character, it would have been simpler – and cheaper- to show a rerun of Fawlty Towers on a big screen. But what is the point of hosting the Olympics if you can’t at least have Kenneth Branagh quote a little Shakespeare (does anyone quote the Bard better than the Belfast boy?) and have a few church bells ring clear in the night sky. The rain fell briefly, as if to remind everyone that this was London and London means rain. But overall, it all went swimmingly.
Two things about Olympic ceremonies never change. They have nothing to do with sport. And they always have and always will be staggeringly expensive exercises in nuttiness. Last night in east London was no exception even if the three and a half hour show illustrated the fact that the British do pomp and pageantry better than the rest of the world. By seven o’clock last night, the masses had gathered in Olympic park and the perfumed and the beautiful began to shimmer up the carpeted entrances reserved for the Olympic Families prestigious guests. By the time the Red Arrows completed a flyover salute, everyone was ready to be dumbfounded and awestruck.
“I don’t believe in God but I believe in people who do,” Boyle said, quoting Billy Connolly in his brief address and expressing the modest wish that people would enjoy the show he is probably going to be remembered for.
And it was impressive in a madcap way. This was a whitewashed montage of centuries of life in Albion. The estimated audience of one billion was treated to a stunning vision of life on the shires and twenty minutes later, we were straight into the smoky might of the industrial revolution – but without the gruesome child labour and the rapacious desire to conquer the world.
It all got a bit trippy after that. Ken Branagh watched the years rush by and flouted the Olympic no smoking laws with a big stogie in his mouth . . . but as he was still in the 1800s, that was okay. Then came the little theatrical tableau between Daniel Craig’s James Bond and HRM Queen Elizabeth, as herself. She’s no Helen Mirren but it wasn’t a bad debut. In the embargoed running order handed out an hour before the ceremony, it was revealed that Bond and HRM were to be parachuted into the stadium.