Danny Boyle’s extraordinary Isles of Wonder eclipsed all previous Olympic opening ceremonies with its narrative of the revolutions and innovations that have shaped Great Britain and influenced the world. The potential of future generations of future generations to make these isles once more Great Britain in deeds, achievements and identity. More importantly Isles of Wonder turned me from being a cynical bastard about London 2012 into an ardent supporter.
My cynicism was born out of a general disinterest in sports and the not unreasonable or unique viewpoint that the billions of pounds being poured into the event could have been spent far more wisely elsewhere. By the conclusion of the opening ceremony I’d been pretty much converted to the wonder of London 2012. Faded into the background of my mind was the controversy of transforming East London into a corporate-financed police state. Forgotten were missiles on rooftops, G4S incompetence, and the omniscient voice of Boris Johnson blaring across London.
A key factor in Isles of Wonder was the unique and infinite capacity of the British to take the piss out of themselves. Pricking the balloon of pomposity as one of the creators of The Goon Show once defined it. Nowhere was this ability to poke fun at ourselves better demonstrated than when the Queen (ok, a stunt double) parachuted into the stadium after being escorted to the venue by James Bond. Is there any other head of state/government or contemporary film icon that could be paired up in this manner and endear themselves in such a way? And whilst everyone was still picking their jaws up from that, Rowan Atkinson popped up to eliminate any over sentimentality from a performance of Chariots of Fire.
At the heart of Danny Boyle’s vision were two revolutions that originated in Great Britain and changed the world forever. One occurred three centuries ago and another the human race continues to live through. The Industrial Revolution and the invention of the World Wide Web respectively.
Pandemonium (a word invented by John Milton as the name for the capital city of Hell in his epic poem Paradise Lost) celebrated the nation’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Sir Kenneth Branagh, in the guise of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, introduced the segment with Caliban’s celebrated speech from William Shakespeare’s final solo masterpiece The Tempest,
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again.
With Underworld’s thundering And I Will Kiss acting as the background beat to the action, it was gobsmacking to watch the dark satanic mills of Britain’s industrial landscape erupt from the green and pleasant land that had been the stage at the start of the evening. Not since the opening tracking shot across the cityscape in Blade Runner had my breath been so taken away by such magnificent imagery. The multitude of masses at work on the stadium floor combined with the forging and assembly of the fiery Olympic Rings above the stadium was quite quite extraordinary.
Frankie & June say… Thanks Tim celebrated the revolution that the world is currently living through. The one bequeathed to the world by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. His invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 could have made him a multi-billionaire but instead in an act of unequalled generosity he gave it away: “this is for everyone”.
With a title derived from JM Barrie’s classic novel Peter Pan Second to the right, and straight on till morning honoured two of Britain’s other greatest acheivements: its astonishing body of children’s literature and the National Health Service. How would it have been possible to remain straight-faced as a squadron of airborne Mary Poppinses swooped down to defeat a 30ft high Lord Voldemort whilst volunteer medical staff from the NHS danced along beneath them?
With every passing second of Isles of Wonder I began to grasp just what an impact Britain has had upon the world and a growing sense of national pride and what the potential of London 2012 was. If I had to pinpoint the moment my mind flipped from cynic to supporter I’d go for the Olympic Torch Relay montage. Framed with David Holmes’ uplifting I Heard Wonders this was a glorious celebration of the torch’s travels across the British Isles. Crowds of old and young joyously waved Union Flags, police hi-fived gathered crowds, adulation everywhere as amazing things were done across the land. Amongst the highlights were torchbearer David State proposing to his girlfriend Christine Langham, and Amelia Hempleman-Adams carrying the torch atop the London Eye. By the time David Beckham and Jade Bailey hurtled along a glorious nocturnal River Thames in a speedboat bearing the Olympic Torch the cynicism I’d harboured towards London 2012 had all but vanished.
For all its magnificent sights and sounds Isles of Wonder dropped two major clangers, though thankfully not in a literal fly-off-the-handle as befell Jeremy Hunt earlier in the day – possibly the only time I’ll ever feel sorry for him.
The first came when poor old Muhammed Ali was once again being placed in front of everyone as an “inspiration” to all athletes around the world. Now, without question Ali is a sporting legend and deserves all the accolades he receives, but isn’t it time to let him rest. The man is seriously seriously ill and to my mind it’s unfair on him to continually display him like a human mascot at every major global sporting event? Does the poor sod even have any idea where he is or what is going on?
The second came following the igniting the cauldron of fire at the hands of the living legacy of London 2012. To the ethereal accompaniment of Pink Floyd’s Eclipse, fireworks erupted around the Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Rings were shown suspended above the Earth. To my mind this was the absolute perfect place to call a halt to proceedings. And then we got Sir Paul McCartney…
The irritation at McCartney closing the proceedings was nothing to do with him not being my favourite Beatle (that accolade goes to John Lennon) or his age (as seems to have been the case with many other critics of his performance). It’s to do with a) being utterly superfluous, and b) his voice was bloody terrible. Is there a clause in Magna Carta that says he has to conclude every event of importance in the 21st century?
On application forms and the like I always put English as nationality. I was born in England and therefore I am English. But since the Isles of Wonder and the incredible success of Team GB I’m happy to declare myself as British for an unknown time.
Our revels now are ended.
These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest, William Shakespeare
For an in-depth look at the production of Isles of Wonder go to the the official Opening Ceremony Tumblr.