For an audience across the Atlantic, it seemed like the rock-and-roll Olympics, an event celebrating the shared culture of the English-speaking world — so much of it thanks to these relatively tiny isles. It was glam Britain (David Bowie). It was scary Britain (Voldemort). It was funny Britain (Monty Python). It was punk Britain (yes, they had mosh pits).
At age 86, Queen Elizabeth II made her acting debut, immortalizing the words “Good evening, Mr. Bond,” in a recorded spot that simulated the monarch jumping out of a helicopter with the latest 007, Daniel Craig. Where Beijing 2008 hailed a millennial culture in an Olympic Games that were heavily monitored by censors and covered by state-controlled media, London embraced irreverence and celebrated democracy while nodding to universal health care and the World Wide Web.
“We’re learning our new place in the world; 100 years ago we were everything . . . but there’s a change,” said Danny Boyle, the Academy Award-winning British director of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Trainspotting” who staged Friday night’s show. He said he was shielded from any political interference in its content and interpreted his own work by adding: “I hope there is an innate modesty about it as well. It’s not unspectacular or unambitious, quite the reverse. But there is a sense of modesty about it. You have to learn your place in the world, you know.”
At times quixotic, the Opening Ceremonies were immediately accused by some of being simply too British, laced as they were with obscure references to the National Health Service and English club music.
“I love this already — mainly because it's so British it will be confusing the hell out of the rest of the world,” CNN’s British talk-show host Piers Morgan tweeted Friday night.
The whimsical nature of the theatrical segments permeated the parade of athletes, perhaps setting a new lighthearted tone to these Games. To the rhythmic beats of the Pet Shop Boys and Adele, 10,490 athletes from 205 countries marched into the stadium before a crowd including more than 100 heads of state and 79,900 others who paid retail prices as much as $3,200 a pop. The stadium crowd erupted in guffaws as the bare-chested, grass-skirted flag-bearer from Fiji entered the stadium to the tune of the Bee Gees’ hit “Stayin’ Alive.” The U.S. team, led by flag-bearer and fencer Mariel Zagunis, paraded in with a contingent that counted more women than men, something that has never happened before. Saudi Arabia, for the first time sending women to the Olympic Games, dispatched three female athletes wearing head scarves, known as hijabs, as they walked behind the team’s men.