Arise Sir Danny Boyle. What a spectacular London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. It beautifully summed up what it means to be British – and we showed the world that when it comes to big, innovative and creative, we are the very best. Be it a Royal Wedding, a Jubilee Thames Pageant or an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, nobody does it better (and that includes the Communists in Beijing!).
|Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel|
The first two-thirds of the Opening Ceremony showed the magnificence of British history of the last two hundred and fifty years as we moved from a rural country into the Industrial Revolution from 1750-1850, where new technologies and mechanisation in all areas of the economy transformed Great Britain and then the world: our country was the cradle of modern civilisation and unprecedented global economic growth. This period in history, powered by genius British engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel (played by Kenneth Branagh in the Opening Ceremony) brought great wealth to millions of people across the world.
|Dark Satanic Mills ascend|
Regrettably, because of the appalling education system Britain has today, many young people watching would not have heard of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was the pop star of the day who designed, built and oversaw incredible engineering projects such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the River Avon in Bristol, Paddington Railway Station in London, the Great Western Railway in the UK, and the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, SS Great Britain. His projects introduced “engineering firsts” which are now widely replicated across the globe. Quite frankly, no one would have the modern transport system they have today without this man. To see Kenneth Branagh swaggering across the stage smoking a cigar as he depicted IKB overseeing the rising of the dark satanic mills with chimney stacks and pitheads was a joy to behold – knowing a billion people world-wide were watching Britain’s great historical achievements was fantastic. This is how I want people to know Britain, not as I described last week.
|Bond makes his entrance|
Then we moved on the the globally recognised British exports. First up was Bond, James Bond. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s participation summed up her ability to move Monarchy with the times. I have read in the newspapers she did her short film sequence with Daniel Craig in one take after only been told of the camera angles once. Well, what do you expect from a pro like Her Majesty? She is the greatest actor of them all – day in, day out for 60 years! The clever parachuting segment where the actor playing the Queen landed at the same side of the stadium where moments later Her Majesty entered the royal box was executed perfectly. I particularly liked the wink to my favourite bond film opening sequence: The Spy Who Loved Me.
Although I still wonder what he has actually done apart from kick a dead cow (not so brilliantly) around a football pitch and trade off his looks, there is no arguing that David Beckham is a world icon for millions if not billions of people. So, as an ambassador for Great Britain goes, he is pretty well qualified. The sequence of bringing the torch on its final leg up the Thames by speed boat to the Olympic Stadium was very Cool Britannia.
Then the third part of the Opening Ceremony showcased British music – an exceptional export – and multiculturalism (more on this below). Our musical exports from the Beatles, to punk rock, to Grime were played through the million-watt sound system. However, it was the third part where I stopped being proud and my political antennae (well, this is a political blog) began twitching. But unlike Tory MP Adrian Burley I know when to keep quiet. But now the performance has finished, we do need to look at Danny Boyle’s somewhat perverse decision-making.
First of all, there was no mention of the Empire or World War II. Granted, there was a sequence on honouring (rightly so) our great war dead but it was deliberately aimed at the First World War, where every survivor in Britain has now died. The Second World War is obviously still too sensitive for the Left but if we were to demonstrate Britain’s contribution to the world in modern history, it was our standing up, alone, to Nazi Germany in the 1940s (let’s not forget the USA did not join the war until 1941). I think a Spitfire downing a Messerschmitt in a cermony sequence might have been a tad insensitive but something around the “spirit of the Blitz” would have been appropriate.
The Empire of course is a very dirty word on the Left but the British Empire spanned a quarter of the world, and the sun never set on her as a result. We brought railways, democratic institutions, mass education and schooling to the countries we colonised. As a recent documentary by the BBC showed, the former colonies may be glad of their independence now but they also said they were glad the British Empire had existed. Frankly, the British Empire is arguably the UK’s biggest ever achievement and not to be mentioned in the Opening Ceremony was of course politically motivated.
|NHS nurses dance at the Opening Ceremony|
I had heard the altar of the NHS was to be wheeled out during the ceremony and was braced for the worse with nurses being adulated despite leaving patients to die of thirst or leaving elderly people soiled in their beds. But Danny Boyle steered through this political minefield very well. He concentrated on the children of Great Ormond Street Hospital bouncing on beds – bizarrely accompanied to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, which was also the soundtrack to a satanically possessed girl with a revolving head in The Exorcist – and segued this into a sequence around J K Rowling’s famous Harry Potter books – magnificently performed by all! I did chuckle to myself that the nurses (played by real NHS nurses) actually looked like nurses rather than in reality where they wear scrubs to deliberately blur the line between nurse and doctor.
I know we bagged the Games by harping on about multiculturalism and how we hated our past and wanted to embrace the world by letting everyone in to feast on our massive welfare system but if the Opening Ceremony was meant to be about depicting Britain as it is to the world then it was slightly distorted by Mr Boyle. At the beginning of the ceremony, the wonderful faces of the children’s choir filled our screen. But if this was meant to be representative of Britain’s demographics then 50% of our population is black. In reality. it is 2%. During the digital era performance, the goings on of a “typical British family” were depicted in a British style suburban house. The mixed race daughter was shown updating her social networking page before getting ready to go out. During the sequence, she met a black boy and started a relationship (with her ‘relationship status’ duly updated on the social networking site). As lovely as the performance was, a typical family in Britain is not multi-racial and to pretend to the world they are was bordering on a right-wing satirical production of the Left’s perverse view of the UK. Additionally, the CND symbol was just laughable.
|British inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee|
It was fantastic to see Sir Tim Berners-Lee given prominence during the digital era segment. Get this world, a Brit invented the World Wide Web! The pixel padals in the crowd beamed out “This is for Everyone” – a reference to Sir Tim’s refusal to patent his technology which is the basis for all websites today.
As I mentioned earlier, the great British export that is music was showcased to the world. But far too much emphasis was placed on Dizzee Rascal, as if Grime is what we all listen to all day – actually only a minority (sizeable I am sure) do. Bonkers.
The last third of the ceremony did pretty much sum up that Britain has lost its way since World War II and the fall of the Empire. Much of our engineering heritage has been sidelined with far too much emphasis placed on the creative sectors such as music (important as it is) rather than our capacity to be a great innovative and manufacturing country once again. Is Britain a victim of it’s own success? We brought modern civilisation and engineering to a quarter of the world and saved the the world three times (no mention of the Cold War in the ceremony either) to provide the foundations of a global economy which has pushed so much of what we do best to far flung parts of the world, purely because they are cheaper. It just doesn’t seem right and is one of the reasons many young people in the West do not have prosperous futures to look forward to.
|London 2012 Olympics Cauldron|
I want to end this London 2012 Opening Ceremony review on a high because overall it was a 9/10 production! I said on Twitter yesterday I was disappointed with the cauldron (or lack of) lighting but I watched the ceremony again last night and I’ve changed my mind. In fact, it was a great idea to have an innovative and creative “cauldron” lighting sequence. The perpetual focus on youth I am still not sure about (with the seven young athletes lighting the “cauldron”) but the 204 copper petals representing all the nations competing in the Olympic Games rising to form the shape of a cauldron summed up Britain again: we are the world’s innovators, the world’s engineers, the world’s technicians. Nobody does it better.