LONDON – James Bond actor Daniel Craig and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth stole the show at an exuberant 2012 Olympic opening on Friday, appearing together in a short film beamed to 60,000 spectators in the main stadium and a billion viewers around the world.
The comedic, quintessentially British moment complemented a London show that film director Danny Boyle, an Oscar winner for “Slumdog Millionaire”, turned into an unabashed celebration of the host nation’s history, culture and eccentricity.
In the tongue-in-cheek film Craig wears his trademark tuxedo and enters Buckingham Palace. The 86-year-old monarch with two corgis at her feet and in her cinematic debut, turns from a writing desk and says simply: “Good evening, Mr. Bond.”
The moment drew a huge cheer from the audience, not used to seeing Her Majesty play such an informal part in proceedings, and coincides with a resurgence in the royal family’s popularity following the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Doubles of Bond and the queen then parachuted from a helicopter above the stadium, built on the Olympic Park in a once derelict area of London’s East End, and the national anthem sang by schoolchildren and Union flag raising followed.
The surreal footage and stunt had been kept a closely guarded secret in the buildup to the ceremony, which also includes speeches, the athletes’ parade and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
Over the following 17 days, the drama of sporting contest takes hold the length and breadth of Britain as more than 16,000 athletes from 204 countries will aim to achieve their ultimate dream – Olympic gold.
The ceremony, inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and backed by rousing music from across the centuries, began with a playful recreation of an English rural idyll with grassy meadows, fences, hedges, a water mill, maypoles and a cottage.
A cast including shepherdesses, sheep, geese, dogs and a village cricket team filled the stage during the one-hour prologue to the show that included a dramatic, low-level fly-past by the jets of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows stunt team.
After “England’s green and pleasant land” came the “dark Satanic mills” of William Blake’s famous poem.
Titled “Pandemonium”, the next phase saw the grass brutally uprooted and fences torn down to be replaced by a blackened landscape of looms and foundries that conjured the Industrial Revolution.
To the deafening beat of hundreds of drummers, giant chimneys rose from the ground and began to belch smoke as a small army of volunteers, dressed as 19th century factory workers, forged one of the five Olympic rings.
The giant orb was raised to the sky to join the four others, letting off a fountain of sparks and drawing gasps from many in the audience.
All around, especially designed “pixel” light boxes installed next to every seat accompanied each scene with giant images of waves, flags and words.
In the second of three “acts”, Boyle paid homage to the National Health Service, an emotive subject in Britain where people hold the right to free health care close to their hearts.
Hundreds of dancing and roller-skating nurses and doctors pushed beds on to the now empty stage, and when the beds were illuminated, they spelled “GOSH” for the cherished Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London.
“The atmosphere was electric coming out into the stadium – like we could take over the world with our beds!” said Rachel Dobbin, a speech and language therapist from London who performed as a nurse in the ceremony.
“I want to do it again, even in spite of all the rainy rehearsals!”
Giant representations of famous villains from English literature, including J.M. Barrie’s Captain Hook, J.K. Rowling’s Voldemort and Ian Fleming’s Childcatcher, rose from their beds.
They were quickly vanquished by dozens of Mary Poppins characters descending from cables criss-crossing the stadium roof, carrying brightly illuminated umbrellas.
Comedian Rowan Atkinson, adopting the globally recognised character of mischievous Mr. Bean, brought the house down as he joined the London Symphony Orchestra playing a single note throughout the score to Olympic film “Chariots of Fire”.
The final act, starring hundreds of young nightclubbing dancers, was a breathless journey through popular British culture over the last five decades, featuring music from everyone from the Sex Pistols to Queen and the Jam to the Who.
Soccer player and A-list celebrity David Beckham played a cameo role, filmed steering a boat that sped along the River Thames with the Olympic torch on board.
At one end of the stadium stands a grassy knoll topped by a tree and at the other end the 23-tonne bell, which Bradley Wiggins, Britain’s winner of this year’s Tour de France, rang to kick off proceedings.
In front of each is a “mosh pit” of people conjuring the spirit of the Glastonbury music festival and Last Night of the Proms classical concert.
Among the crowd were celebrities, ordinary Londoners, visitors from abroad and dignitaries including U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama as well as presidents, prime ministers and European royalty.
Boyle’s colourful and sometimes chaotic vision aimed to create a kaleidoscope of what it means to be British, an approach that could appeal to the home audience but leave many foreign viewers scratching their heads at times.
Boyle paid tribute to the 10,000 volunteers, cast and crew taking part in the ceremony.
“We hope the feeling of the show is a celebration of generosity,” he said. “There’s no better expression of that than these volunteers.”
At the end of a three-hour extravaganza, David Beckham, the English soccer icon who had helped convince the IOC to grant London the Games, stepped off a speedboat carrying the Olympic flame at the end of a torch relay that inspired many ordinary people around Britain.
Past Olympic heroes including Muhammad Ali, who lit the cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and British rower Steve Redgrave, the only person to win gold at five successive games, welcomed the flame into the stadium.
Yet it was not a celebrity but seven teenage athletes who lit a spectacular arrangement of over 200 copper ‘petals’ representing the participating countries, which rose up in the centre of the stadium to converge into a single cauldron.
Moments later, a balloon-borne camera relayed live pictures of the earlier-released interlocked rings gliding through the stratosphere against the curved horizon of the planet below.
The performance included surreal and often witty references to British achievements, especially in social reform and the arts, and ended with former Beatle Paul McCartney singing “Hey Jude”.
Many sequences turned the entire stadium into a vast video screen made up of tens of thousands of “pixels” attached to the seats. One giant message, unveiled by Tim Berners-Lee, British inventor of the world wide web, read “This is for Everyone”.