On the 27th of July 2012, London morphed into the biggest cinema screen in the world as director Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony, ‘Isles of Wonder’, got underway. Described by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as ‘…the biggest, maddest, weirdest, most heartfelt and lovable dream sequence in British cinema history‘, it was packed full of movie references and cinematic goodness.
The ceremony began with an epic panorama of rural Britain being utterly demolished by an almost Steam-Punk style version of the industrial revolution. To the beat of a thousand drums, the Olympic rings appeared to be forged from liquid metal by an army of workers, while world famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (played by actor and director Kenneth Branagh) looked on approvingly.
After this came a surprising but hilarious addition to the ceremony; Happy and Glorious, a short BBC film in which the Queen made her acting debut alongside Daniel Craig in his role as James Bond. Stunt doubles dressed as the Queen and Bond then leapt into the stadium from a helicopter to the strains of the world famous Bond theme; a tongue in cheek salute to the British royals and British cinema.
Following on from this was a fantastical, dark and quirky portrayal of the National Health Service and some of Britain’s most beloved children’s literature, which included an appearance from J. K. Rowling (author of the bestselling Harry Potter series). Doctors and nurses wheeled pyjama-clad children into the stadium in hospital beds, before engaging in a nightmarish fight with some of literature’s most spine-chilling antagonists, including the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Cruella De Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians. A giant model of Lord Voldemort, complete with a sparking wand, loomed above the scene, seeming to take over the stadium before being vanquished by a fleet of Mary Poppinses.
After actor Rowan Atkinson (in the world famous guise of Mr. Bean) had joined conductor Sir Simon Rattle in an unusual rendition of Chariots of Fire, there came a medley of the best of British rock and roll set to a social-networking love story for the modern age, very much in the style of Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. As a director Boyle is remembered for his skilful use of music, and he certainly didn’t disappoint with this section, which included an appearance from Dizzee Rascal (the soundtrack to the ceremony topped the Amazon bestseller list within minutes of its release).
References to British films were also heavily entwined with the music in this sequence; apart from cheeky nods to Boyle’s own Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, also referenced were Billy Elliot, Gregory’s Girl, Kes, The Full Monty, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, and many more.
Then came a danced tribute to the victims of the 7/7 London bombings, which took place in 2005 mere days after it was announced that London had been awarded the 2012 games. Then followed the traditional parade of the athletes; teams from each participating country entered the stadium to cheers and flag-waving, with Great Britain, who entered last with David Bowie’s song Heroes playing in the background, receiving the biggest cheer of all. A performance from the Arctic Monkeys came next, accompanied by a hypnotising display of so-called ‘Dove Bikes’; a fleet of neon-winged riders circled the stadium, before one took off into the air in an echo of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.
The ceremony culminated in the lighting of the Olympic Flame by seven young British athletes, after which we were treated to a spectacular firework display set to the music of Pink Floyd. Paul McCartney closed the ceremony with a performance of Hey, Jude.
In its peculiarly British eccentricity, the ceremony went over the heads of many international viewers. Even so, Boyle’s effort was certainly spectacular in the literal sense of the word; a feast for the eyes, ‘Isles of Wonder’ turned out to be a funny, quirky and above all cinematic examination of modern Britain, and those of us who live here.