Boyle hero as Olympic ceremony meets universal rapture

Jul 28, 2012
David Cairns

Spectacular, witty and cheeky opening show wins plaudits – though Tory MP slams 'multicultural crap'

FILM DIRECTOR Danny Boyle is the first 2012 gold medallist today after last night's Olympic opening ceremony was greeted at home with almost unanimous rapture. And his brilliantly inventive, witty and irreverent spectacular won over the world audience too.

From a show composed entirely of highlights, the Queen's surprise acting debut, delivering the line "Good evening, Mr Bond" with some aplomb, stands out – and typified Boyle's refusal to abandon his irreverent and humorous personal vision.

When Boyle was announced as the ceremony's creative director, some eyebrows were raised. Richard Curtis or Sir Cameron Macintosh would have been more predictable, and safer, choices.

But Boyle's ceremony had chutzpah – using the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen as well as Elgar, showing Liz Two parachuting into the stadium with her bloomers waving in the breeze and including a defiant section in praise of the NHS in general and Great Ormond Street Hospital in particular.

And the cheek was underwritten by sincerity: a passionate love for both green Olde England and modern multicultural London, respect for the institution of royalty – after all, Her Majesty was in on the joke – and homage to the country's history, with Churchill's Parliament Square statue coming to life.

This delicate balancing act has united the press in praise of Boyle. Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian found the ceremony an "impassioned poem of praise to the country [Boyle] would most like to believe in… tolerant, multicultural, fair and gay friendly [with] the principles of the welfare state stoutly at its heart".

Over at The Daily Mail, Jan Moir – incredibly – agreed. Boyle gave us "a vision of Britain, past and present, that was touching and special, without being pious or grandiose."

She added: "It was by turns madcap, eccentric, emotional, a little bit cheesy, sometimes cringey and accompanied by some of the greatest music ever made. It was dazzling and bold and so very, very us."

While another director might have watered down the Britishness of the show – hoping to keep it intelligible to an international audience – Boyle had the nous to know that anything watered down is just that: more watery.

"What must viewers in Thailand or Ulan Bator thought?" worried Moir. Well, the Bangkok Post, for one, said the show was a "spectacular and quirky start in a celebration of all things uniquely British".

The American reception was positive. "London greeted the world with a celebration of Old England that was stunning, imaginative, whimsical and dramatic - and cheeky," said the New York Daily News. It was "moving, bizarre, funny and exciting and often surprisingly dark," said the LA Times.

Germany's Die Welt praised the ceremony's "simple British coolness" and said it was a show "drawn with a fine pen, not with a thick brush like Beijing in 2008" where a "pompous opening ceremony … illustrated China's gigantism".

The Times of India called the ceremony "dazzling" and "a vibrant picture of Great Britain's rich heritage and culture". The Sydney Morning Herald said it was "an unforgettable start" and added: "Boyle's vivid and vibrant pageant set the tone for these Games and perhaps even a new direction for the Olympic movement."

From China, whose previous pyrotechnic spectacular was seen as a hard act to follow, came gracious praise. English language China Daily said: "Britain's Queen Elizabeth declared the London Olympics open after playing a cameo role in a dizzying ceremony designed to highlight the grandeur and eccentricities of the nation that invented modern sport."

There was only one fly in the ointment. Tory MP Aidan Burley, who provoked outrage when he was pictured at a stag party in France where a guest wore a replica SS uniform, tweeted: "Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap."

Within hours, reports The Daily Telegraph, Downing Street had distanced itself from Burley, saying it did not agree. Alongside the angry comments from Labour MPs, one Tory, Gavin Barwell responded: "With respect, us Londoners are rather proud of the diversity of our city."

No comment however from Mitt Romney. The Republican presidential wannabe, whose pre-Olympic visit to London contained so many gaffes and slights it was dubbed 'Romneyshambles' has not spoken publicly about the show.

It is to be hoped that Romney saw the ceremony though – the section devoted to the NHS was, coincidentally, a neat two fingers up to the man who has promised to repeal Obamacare if he is elected.

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Actually, I watched the ceremony and I really wasn't expecting much. and I have to say you are wrong, Paul McCartney wasn't the highlight He was kind of obvious and a bit sad TBH but the enthusiasm, skill, ingenuity and talent by everyone taking part and I have to say all the comments about the torches going out became more understandable when the big torch was lit and the design was revealed.

Its easy to use a major event to say it rubbish and flog a blog but it takes much more to admit your wrong and I was kind of proud of it. I also loved the opening of the para-olympics although the meanings were at some points harder to figure out.

I didn't bother to read your blog based on your comment but if you said the closing ceremony was a tad disappointing - I agree.