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Saturday 16 December 2017

Magical Boyle leaves world spellbound with wild opener

Gordon Rayner

Brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers and utterly British.

Danny Boyle captured the spirit, history, humour and patriotism of an expectant nation last night as he pulled off an Olympic opening ceremony like no other.

From a bucolic vision of a green and pleasant land to a riotous medley of Britpop's greatest hits, Boyle's tour de force was a love letter to his homeland.

To cap it all, London 2012 reached stratospheric heights as five Olympic rings were lifted by giant balloons from the stadium into space. Pity the person who has to try to better this in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Boyle's £27m (€34m) creation crackled with wit; the sight of a stadium full of people wearing 3D glasses and head-banging in time to the Sex Pistols' 'Pretty Vacant' was certainly not one the organisers saw coming when London was given the Games seven years ago, but it was gloriously madcap nonetheless.

Following pre-show entertainment that included a Red Arrows fly-past, a TV audience of up to a billion tuned in at 9pm for what promised to be the greatest show on earth.

Boyle's 'Isles of Wonder' theme began with a film of ships approaching the coast, played to the strains of Elgar's 'Nimrod'.

Next came a dazzlingly fast-paced journey down the Thames from its source in Kemble, Glos, to the East End of London, taking in Ratty and Mole, village cricket, rowers at Henley and the London Underground, backed by a pulsating procession of British music, from the Clash's 'London Calling' to the Sex Pistols and the theme from 'EastEnders'.

As the countdown neared its end, a set of Olympic rings attached to four balloons were released, with a camera attached, in the hope that they would beam back pictures from the stratosphere.

Then, once the clock reached zero, man of the moment Bradley Wiggins, Britain's Tour de France hero, rang Europe's largest tuned bell.

Danny Boyle's decision to use live animals in a recreation of rural Britain in the early 19th century had raised eyebrows, but on the night the 40 sheep, three cows, nine geese, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks and 12 horses were as well-drilled as any of the human performers.

This, said Boyle, was the Britain of 'Wind in the Willows' and 'Winnie the Pooh'.

Criss-crossed

Opposite the giant bell, the other end of the stadium was swallowed up by a Glastonbury-style tor, criss-crossed with pathways and with an English oak tree on its summit.

Overhead, four clouds were walked around the stadium by people holding their strings, and even brought a passing shower.

Choirboys sang the UK's four "national anthems": 'Jerusalem', sung from the stadium, 'the Derry Air', sung on the Giant's Causeway, 'Cwm Rhondda', from Rhossili Beach and 'Flower of Scotland' from Edinburgh Castle.

But things were about to change forever, as Kenneth Branagh appeared as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, reciting Caliban's speech from 'The Tempest': "Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises."

John Milton's capital city of Hell in 'Paradise Lost' was invoked as the peace and tranquillity of the British countryside was shattered by 965 demonic drummers pounding a mechanical beat as the industrial revolution ripped up the landscape.

The 7,346sqm of grass was stripped away to reveal the streets of London and the River Thames. With 50 Brunels looking on, six smoking chimneys rose up to tower over the stage, beam engines pumped water out of unseen mines and the oak atop the tor was ripped from its firmament until its roots dangled in the air.

Drawing heavily from Boyle's working-class Lancashire upbringing, six giant looms thrashed away, powering Victorian Britain's economic prosperity.

Boyle's Labour leanings surfaced as he celebrated the right to protest.

Never afraid to introduce sudden changes of mood, Boyle switched to a war memorial of the "Accrington Pals" battalion, wiped out in the Somme.

Then came perhaps the most spectacular moment of all, as workers in a furnace produced a crucible of "molten metal", poured down a channel and into a circular mould to forge an Olympic ring.

From the four corners of the stadium's roof came four more rings to join it, which united in mid-air to form the Olympic rings which crackled and then showered sparks onto the stage.

The queen made her entrance, taking her place in the royal box alongside the Prince Philip, Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, and Prince Harry.

Members of the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were chosen to carry the Union flag to the flagpole and raise it, where it will stay until the closing ceremony on August 12.

The honour of singing the English national anthem was given to the Koas Signing Choir of deaf and hearing children.

In a tribute to British cinema, the London Symphony Orchestra played 'Chariots of Fire' as clips of classics including 'A Matter of Life and Death', 'Kes', 'Gregory's Girl', 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and 'Mr Bean's Holiday' were shown on screen.

Then Mr Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson, was to due to appear in the orchestra. In a superb send-up of the opening sequence of 'Chariots', he was to imagine himself running alongside a beach with the actor who played Eric Liddell.

Having begun the night in the pre-industrial age, the show entered the internet age.

Previews to journalists showed housewife Carly Enstone driving into the stadium in her Mini, grabbing her keys and her bags of groceries and let herself into her house in time to listen to the 'The Archers'.

Quite what viewers in Shanghai or Vladivostok were making of it by this stage is anyone's guess, but they were about to witness a madcap mash-up of Britain's favourite music, television shows and films.

It began with the family inside the house gorging on a feast of telly, including 'Blackadder', 'Monty Python' and 'Harry Hill'.

For teenage sisters Frankie and June, played by 19-year-old Henrique Costa and 18-year-old Jasmine Breinburg, it was time for a night out.

A young man who glimpsed June on the Tube picked up her lost mobile phone, and love eventually triumphed as he chased her on a musical journey through nightclubs in the 60s, 70s, 90s and today.

The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks all filled the stadium, and when David Bowie's 'Starman' came on the jukebox, spacemen with neon jet-packs soared into the air.

As the girls partied, they invited their friends back home using social media, given to the world via Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the web.

Step-change

Then came another step-change with the Memorial Wall: ticket-holders for the opening ceremony were invited to send in pictures of loved ones who are no longer with us, which were displayed on screen.

A helicopter was due to drop seven billion tiny pieces of paper -- one for every person on the planet -- and music including the Bee Gees' 'Stayin Alive' was to be played at 120 beats per minute to encourage the athletes to walk a little quicker.

The ceremony was due to finish with the queen declaring the Games open, and the cauldron being lit by torchbearers.

Their identity, and the design of the cauldron, remained a closely-guarded secret.

They would be followed by a spectacular fireworks display and a live performance by Paul McCartney, singing a new song, 'The End', and 'Hey Jude'.

Beat that, Brazil.

Irish Independent

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