Ten thoughts about… Danny’s Britain

28th July 2012

If nothing else, we will be thinking and talking about the Olympics opening ceremony for many a moon. The detailed cultural analyses will follow in the weeks and months to come, but it’s worth stressing that it was a lot of fun and totally fascinating, and that it was truly spectacular at times, and silly, bonkers and extraordinarily bold. Bravo, Danny Boyle, bravo. Here are the ten best things about it that I’ve found online so far – including (at no. 10) the final paragraph of the director’s programme note last night – if you have tears, prepare to shed them now.

1. Olympic Games opening ceremony – irreverent and idiosyncratic: Marina Hyde for the Guardian uses George Orwell’s essay ‘England,, Your England’ to start making sense of it all, ‘Boyle’s answer to Orwell’s question [“How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?”] seemed to be that one can’t really, and that’s the best thing about the place. He embraced the muddle.’

2. What Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony said about Britain’s cultural landscape: also for the Guardian, Charlotte Higgins is as acute as ever, ‘The ceremony showcased Britain’s dance landscape, with Akram Khan‘s choreographic sequences, and TV and film got a look-in […]. Apart from the vaguely Samual Palmerish landscape of the opening scene, though, there was no visual art: no shades of JMW Turner (and perhaps thankfully no Hirst or Emin). In fact the whole thing might be said to have owed a greater debt to the continental surrealist tradition.

3. Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony was as ironic, complex and beautiful as Britain herself: historian Tim Stanley blogs for the Telegraph – ‘So after all of this, what is Britain? A country that can still put on a show, that has many identities, that is culturally rich, that has a battered landscape, that lost a lot when the factories were first built, that has patches of God still found lying about, that is intensely proud of what it got right (free healthcare, women’s votes), but not too comfortable about what it got wrong (empire was never mentioned). It is a mess. A jolly wonderful mess. We’re good at those.’

4. Danny Boyle wins the gold: The New Yorker‘s Lauren Collins is very good indeed – ‘The unspoken message [of the rural start] was that Britain was an old country, a proud country—and a very different country from China. Boyle’s living diorama, as specifically-drawn a world as Middle Earth or Pandora, was the opposite of Beijing’s vague corporate bombast. […] After “Nimrod,” a lavender sky hovered over Olympic Stadium. The cameras homed in on a lone boy, his voice just summiting childhood, who began singing the other great British tearjerker, Sir Herbert Parry’s “Jersualem.” “And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England’s mountain green?” the boy warbled. Boyle had already nailed it.’

5. IP Lawyers are Collateral Damage When Mary Poppins Battles He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named at London’s Olympic Games: written ahead of the ceremony, but nonetheless well-informed, this is the view from LA lawyer Dan Nabel about the nightmare of character licensing when you have Mary Poppins battling Voldemort (and it’s a lot more interesting than I’ve made it sound).

6. Olympic opening ceremony – Ai WeiWei’s review: the Guardian demonstrates just how good its Olympics coverage already is with a short but brilliantly tellling piece from the Chinese dissident artist comparing last night with director Zhang Yomou’s Beijing extravaganza, ‘In London there were more close-ups – it didn’t show the big formations. It had the human touch. In Zhang Yimou’s opening ceremony there was almost none of that. You could not push into a person’s face and see the human experience. What I liked most with this was that it always came back to very personal details. And that’s what makes it a nation you can trust; you see the values there. Anyone who watched it would have a clear understanding of what England is.’

7. Olympic pulse – London’s magical story: Andrew Missingham on his blog liked what he saw, a lot – ‘Simply, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Pure theatre, pure confection, but a story told with a scale, wit and execution that was dazzling and funny and left me wanting to sum it up in words so I don’t forget what it made me feel. I believe that Danny Boyle’s bold, brilliant story arc was so great that it will inform the way we tell London’s story for years to come, and thus will end up no less than shaping and defining us.’

8. God save your mad parade – the most British of opening ceremonies: ‘Tomato’ man and design professor John Warwicker contributes a short, sharp post, ‘Flying characters descending from the heavens, odd gigantic puppets, dancing children and stupendous pyrotechnics are the “norm” for such events. Add a few concise narratives to inform and entertain and the formula is there. But the presentation of such honesty regarding the cultural evolution of a country particularly is rare; very rare indeed.’

9. Next time round, can we have Aidan Burley as part of the show please?: an insightful view from the Right, from Paul Goodman at the blog ConservativeHome – ‘Mr Boyle’s vision really did capture something of Modern Britain.  Turning my rule on its head, I think this really is a matter of fact rather than of taste.  And I would put money on anyone who detested his display and everything in it also detesting a very great deal about modern Britain, its modernity especially.’

10. Danny Boyle’s programme note for last night (and especially the final paragraph) [thanks to Riz Ahmed @rizmc] – I defy you to get to the end of this without a lump in your throat and, probably, a tear in your eye…

We hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, of the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.


  1. […] appropriate to correct this and to write my personal response to the event. (Further reading: the Illuminations blog has a good selection of articles about the ceremony). In no particular […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *