The weight placed upon Danny Boyle‘s shoulders when he was announced as the Creative Director for the opening of the London 2012 Olympic Games is unfathomable. Charged with putting together the Opening Ceremony as the successor to the 2008 Beijing Olympics is not an enviable task, and it takes a man of great confidence and ability to take that on.
It is therefore to Boyle’s great credit that he moved in entirely the opposite direction to the Beijing ceremony, whilst still maintaining the spectacle. And what a spectacle it was. With his grand vision, which explored the diversity, culture and youth of Britain today, Boyle managed to achieve the impossible: to blow away the smog of cynicism surround his ceremony with a wave of pride and awe. Boyle has delivered on what he had promised, which was to create something which would celebrate Britain (whilst acknowledging its foibles) but which would also keep it intimate as well as look forward to the future.
The result was spectacular, moving, funny and surprising, not to mention a brilliant thematic counterpart to Danny Boyle’s own filmography. Like Boyle’s films, the ceremony was a buoyant celebration of life that managed to shatter cultural boundaries whilst also acknowledging British heritage. It also showcased Boyle’s extraordinary ability to assemble an eclectic playlist of songs (ranging from The Rolling Stones to Dizzie Rascal to Prodigy) and his eye for the visual. But most importantly, it showed his ability to entertain through offering the audience what they expect, but then delivering so much more.
The beginning of the Opening Ceremony was undoubtedly the most spectacular and the most impressive segment. When Boyle unveiled his set of the pastoral landscape, that looked more like a whimsical fantasy of the British countryside than the actual British countryside, everyone was cynical (including myself) and thinking that it could only end in disaster. However, the announcement that the entire Opening Ceremony would take place on that set proved to be a wonderful red herring.
While it did start on the pastoral idyll with people playing cricket, children dancing around a maypole and housewives farming the land, it was soon ripped away by the arrival of the industrialists in a genius allusion to the Industrial Revolution. Leading them was Kenneth Branagh, dressed in character as Isambard Kingdom Brunel (a revolutionary British engineer and not Abraham Lincoln as some idiots have said), gloriously reciting a speech from The Tempest before the tree at the top of the landscape raised open.
From the roots of the tree poured hundreds of volunteers and actors made up as grubby factory workers. As they marched upon the landscape they tore it apart, ripping up the pasture, the grass and taking down the farmhouses to make way for giant smoke stacks to rise from the ground and build gigantic metal forges. From there, the workers get to forging giant rings which were raised in the air to form the Olympic logo.
As the action coupled to a pulsating score by Underworld, the ceremony took on a style that was not entirely dissimilar to the work Danny Boyle did in his National Theatre production of Frankenstein. The steampunk visuals of the newly Industrial landscape are essentially his sets from that play, only on a grander scale.
It was a stunning introduction to the ceremony and a scene that was never quite topped for spectacle and awe throughout the ceremony. The raising of the rings, which blew sparks out upon the set, was jaw dropping and glorious. The surprise inclusion of Branagh was a great moment and proved once more that he delivers a Shakespearean soliloquy better than anyone else.
As the smoke from the rings settled and cleared, the audience were treated to the most tongue in cheek section. A small James Bond short was screened for the crowd, entitled Happy & Glorious, shot by Boyle himself. It saw Bond escorting Her M the Q from Buckingham Palace to the Olympic Games via helicopter. The conclusion of this led the audience to believe that the head of the Royal family skydived into the stadium. A rare moment of the Royal Family showing that they do have a sense of humour.
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