The 2008 Beijing opening ceremony was surrounded by controversy when it was revealed that the talented young Chinese girl who sang the national anthem was miming, as the singing girl had “ugly teeth”. Also, some of the spectacular fireworks were CGI.
Due to this, I had low hopes for the London ceremony, especially when it was revealed that the set was a green country field. Now, I join the rest of the world in the chorus of “Give Danny Boyle a Knighthood!”
The ceremony was incredible. It was stunning. After hearing ‘Map of the Problematique’ by Muse (one of the all time favourite songs) being used as the intro music, I knew I was in for a treat. Sir Kenneth Branagh kicked the whole thing off as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as thousands of volunteer actors chugged along with drums and machines at the Industrial Revolution.
Giant smoke pipes sprouted up out of the grassy ground and English folk played soccer to the sound of a young choir singing (I was fearful that Bane would appear saying “Let the Games Begin”).
As the stage was set for Part II, television audiences were shown a comic interlude featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond and Queen Elizabeth. I already knew Craig would be appearing, so when it turned out he only had one line, I was disappointed. Also, the illusion of Elizabeth and Bond parachuting into the stadium was ruined when (a) Craig didn’t appear again (b) Elizabeth appeared from a door, nowhere near where the parachute landed. This effect could have been improved with some more participation from Elizabeth, who could have perhaps, I don’t know, stepped out on the field once or twice?
Part 2 began, and the show really got much better. Young children were sent to hospital beds as their nurses danced, as a celebration of the NHS. Boyle was clearly trying to patronise Americans, due to their continued lack of a fully-fledged health system. Next, literature took centre stage, as Her Royal Writerness Joanne Kathleen Rowling appeared, reading from JM Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’. Next, one of her most original characters, Lord Voldemort blew down from the sky, a giant puppet, casting spells and terrifying the children. The Lost Boys from ‘Peter Pan’ jumped out from the beds, cackling and screaming as they crawled along the ground. The Child-catcher, perhaps the most terrifying character in the history of Literature, arrived in his coach. I’m not sure if Noel Fielding was playing him or not, and my internet is down, so I can’t check. Professional, huh?
Dozens of Mary Poppins’ flew down onto the pitch, and defeated Voldemort with their umbrellas. I was in tears at this point.
The ‘tribute to British cinema’ began, and ended pretty soon too. Mr Bean played the theme to ‘Chariots of Fire’ in an overlong sequence. Maybe US visitors can help me out, but I wasn’t aware Mr Bean was known outside of Europe. Footage was shown from Fawlty Towers, Eastenders, Trainspotting, Black Adder and other staples of British saturday night culture.
The musical portion was spectacular. Dizzee Rascal performed, after a journey through every decade of British music including The Rolling Stones, The Jam, The Clash, The Prodigy, The Sex Pistols, Rizzle Kicks and Tinie Tempah. There was strobing, dancing, kissing and a very strange technological portion involving a young couple texting and tweeting one another. The inventor of the internet completed the tech episode.
Emelie Sande sang a traditional hymn during a dance between ‘father and son’ which felt very out of place. The Athlete’s parade began, and went on for a total of 104 minutes. I must admit, I turned over to something more entertaining as soon as Ireland were finished.
Arctic Monkeys sang ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ and ‘Come Together’ as little butterflies on bicycles mysteriously moved through the stadium. This was a beautiful, if not hypnotic, section of the ceremony.
Muhammad Ali made a quick appearance, as David Beckman drove the boat carrying the flame towards the stadium
The various petals of the olympic cauldron were placed in place and lit up, creating one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Paul McCartney, obviously, turned up to sing ‘Hey Jude’ which, as 1am, didn’t get much of a sing-along.
Overall, the ceremony was one of the best-organised, stunning events I have ever witnessed on TV, and I believe all involved in the planning and design should get CBEs, OBEs and KBEs.
In unrelated news, David Williams should be knighted.