Damn you Danny Boyle
Being British, I have an inherited PhD in cynicism, a firm belief in the ability of my country to cock things up, a studied absence of patriotism, and I utter a small prayer of gratitude every morning that I no longer have to live in the country of my birth.
I can still remember the queasy feeling in my stomach when Britain won the right to host the next Olympics. The news was marked by Boris in a bus in Beijing, and it was more than a little crap, especially after the carefully crafted mega-show that only a country like China, with an unlimited budget and unlimited people, could manage. This was going to be a disaster.
And so I sat down this morning to watch the London opening ceremony with cynicism turned to maximum and a full pot of sneering ready to apply liberally when required. Bring it on.
And bring it on, Danny Boyle certainly did. He started with the stadium turned into the green fields of the UK. There were live animals and hundreds of people; all of whom somehow magically removed themselves and all their props to reveal a scene from the industrial revolution, complete with smoking chimneys and a steelworks that constructed a fiery ring which was then lifted aloft to join four other rings to complete the you-know-what. In the middle of that we had a period of reflection on the dead of two world wars, there was the suffragette movement and the Jarrow march.
Next there was a segment where the queen meets James Bond in Buckingham Palace. Must be an actress; no it was the actual real Liz who may have employed a stunt double when it came to skydiving out of a helicopter and showing her bloomers; but she gave permission for it to happen so she may not now be first against the wall come the revolution.
What can he do next? How about Mike Oldfield playing Tubular Bells while kids from Great Ormond Street Hospital are wheeled in by nursing staff and everyone starts dancing. Try shutting down the NHS now Mr. Cameron. Oh, and there were loads of characters from kids literature floating about ‘cos we are good at that too.
Then they announced Sir Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra playing Chariots of Fire. Bit of a yawn then; but no, this was just a prop for a Mr. Bean sketch. Rowan Atkinson hates Mr. Bean, we Brits prefer him in Blackadder; but to the rest of the world he is a symbol of British humour and I bet they were giggling in Peru.
Next we had a single simple house around which was hung a montage of fifty years of British film and (mainly music) including queen friendly favourites such as the Sex Pistols and Frankie’s Relax. Plenty of social media references and the house lifted at the end to reveal Tim Berners-Lee, father of the internet.
Finish off with Abide With Me and you had an hour plus of magic.
First of all, you have to admire the sheer technical achievement. Ten thousand volunteers, any one of whom could have cocked things up. All sorts of technical wizardry that could have gone wrong and made Britain the laughing stock we expected it to be. Then there was the production which wasn’t just a stage show but a filmed event going out live to the world; so every camera shot had to be perfect. Essentially it was a complex movie with thousands of amateur actors shot in one take. No pressure then.
But it was a lot more than that. To be British is to understand the lure of the green and pleasant lands that are there to be enjoyed when we can. Many of us have lived through the tail end of the industrial revolution and seen the country slowly transform into the multi-cultural place it is today, with all the challenges that brings, but also all the amazing music and art that comes from such an environment. And deep down we all love the fact that we don’t take ourselves seriously, we are self-deprecating and if we want our queen have a conversation with James Bond and then jump out of helicopter as part of a show being beamed around the world; then that is what we will bloody well do.
Danny Boyle perfectly captured what it is to be British and, though I tried hard to fight it, made us proud to be so, and the bastard had me choked up for the best part of an hour.
Still wouldn’t want to live there, and for fuck’s sake don’t roll out Paul McCartney again.
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