The Queen and James Bond jumped out of a helicopter in Union Jack parachutes! Mr. Bean played “Chariots of Fire!” There were UFOs!
It was a quirky and bizarre opening ceremony for London’s Olympic Games tonight, taking the form of a visually spectacular if at times uneven odyssey through British history and culture.
There were some early cringe-worthy scenes of pre-industrial Britain: maypole dancers, thatched cottages, mustachioed beekeepers, and a hirsute Kenneth Branagh dressed up as British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel orating from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. But the visuals picked up a gear when the green and pleasant landscape—complete with chickens, goats and cows—gave way to the age of industry, with factory towers rising out of the earth and the greenery being paved over and flooded with a fiery river Thames of molten iron.
It is debatable whether creative director Danny Boyle—of Slumdog Millionaire fame—really needed to have an oak tree physically uprooted in a cloud of dry ice, from the roots of which poured forth thousands of coal-smutted workers of the Industrial Revolution, but Olympic opening ceremonies do seem to have a habit of making pedants of even the most lateral thinkers.
Indeed, while Boyle’s opening sequence, which featured a camera racing up the Thames, recalled the opening credits of his first film Shallow Grave and key scenes from Trainspotting, the show then raced through a heavily stylized version of British history. There were suffragettes, tributes to the war dead and the MV Windrush (the ship which brought the first West Indian immigrants to Britain after World War II), and, of course, the Beatles.
But the highlight for many came with the playing of a short film, “Happy and Glorious,” which showed James Bond arriving at Buckingham Palace. Daniel Craig walked into the Queen’s private rooms to find her sitting at a desk.
She turns to him and says, “Good evening, Mr. Bond.”
Bond replies: “Good evening, Your Majesty.”
Then the dapper pair climbed into a chopper, which was shown flying under Tower Bridge in a stunt filmed last month, before they appeared to parachute into the stadium. (Stuntmen, of course, took the place of Craig and the Queen for the final descent.)
The real live Queen then entered the stadium, on foot, with her husband, Prince Philip. Daniel Craig had vanished.
Another visual highlight came when five glowing Olympic rings floated over the stadium like mysterious UFOs before joining together and raining fire.
But the clincher for many viewers was Rowan Atkinson’s performance of “Chariots of Fire,” in which, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, the star of countless Mr. Bean movies fiddled with his smart phone and distractedly day-dreamed that he was running on a beach with star athletes from the British Olympic team.
Other Great Britons honored amid pageantry included cyclist Bradley Wiggins, who rang a giant bell to formally open the £27 million, ($42.5 million) event, and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
Britain’s greatest Olympian, rower Steve Redgrave, had the honor of carrying the flame into the Olympic stadium, but the task of lighting the cauldron itself fell to a group of seven young athletes nominated by British Olympic heroes.
In the final moments of the ceremony, to the accompaniment of amazing pyrotechnics and fireworks and after the two-hour parade of athletes had concluded, the boxer Muhammad Ali appeared on stage, as a speedboat carried the Olympic torch on the final leg of its journey up the Thames, accompanied by David Beckham.
Beckham handed the torch to Redgrave, who carried the torch into the stadium through a tunnel packed with some of the construction workers who built the stadium.
The torch was then run around the stadium, while being passed between a corps of young athletes nominated by Redgrave and others. For the grand finale, the seven youngsters lit torches from each other and then simultaneously lit the cauldron which will burn for the duration of the games.
The show concluded with a dazzling fireworks display to the accompaniment of the song ‘Eclipse’ better known as the final track on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, followed by a solo performance of Hey Jude by Sir Paul McCartney, proving once again that no British event is complete without Sir Paul.