Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Sport
28 July 2012

Olympic opener: madcap Britishness or “multicultural crap“?

How Danny Boyle's vision went down.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

Apart from some dyspeptic grumbling on Twitter from Toby Young and a spectacularly ill-judged tweet from Tory MP Aidan Burley (“Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap”), the reaction to last night’s Olympic opening ceremony, directed with astonishing panache and imagination by Danny Boyle, has been almost universally favourable.

The Olympic flagbearers included Doreen Lawrence. Photo: Getty Images

Like many observers, former deputy leader of the Labour Party Roy Hattersley, writing in the Times (£), “rejoiced at the tributes paid to the National Health Service” (Boyle’s sly paean to the “nanny state” had a squadron of Mary Poppins ministering to children in NHS beds). “It is no longer the best system of medical care in the world,” Hattersley went on, “but it is, after the monarchy, the most popular institution in the country. That is proof of our national compassion and evidence of our collective goodwill. It represents the true spirit of Britain.”

The density of historical allusion conjured by Boyle might have struck foreign viewers as mostly incomprehensible, but for the Telegraph‘s Jim White it was a measure of the director’s daring: “Boyle’s bravery was to say, never mind if outsiders didn’t get half the show’s many allusions, enough of us will have done. Which was fair enough. Because after all, we paid for it.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The Olympic “cauldron”, made of dozens of copper petals. Photo: Getty Images

For Owen Gibson in the Guardian, Boyle’s “attempt to define Britishness in the opening hour of his Olympic opening ceremony was a madcap, surreal, moving and often confounding affair”. His colleague Peter Bradshaw, the paper’s film critic, thought this was “Boyle’s 3D multimedia masterpiece”, while Marina Hyde praised those moments of “subversive lucidity” that so enraged Young and Burley.

The flying dove bikes. Photo: Getty Images

And what of the view from abroad? The New York Times described the ceremony, not unaccurately, as “weirdly and unabashedly British”. El Pais in Spain struck a different note, however. Britain, it declared, had “presented itself to the world as it is – a country with more past than future”. But France’s Le Monde was more gracious, noting that the Queen had “embodied the sense of humour of her people” by taking part in a short film with the actor Daniel Craig.

Topics in this article :