One of the ceremony highlights - Emeli Sandé
So, I was expecting to be full of smart alec things to say about Friday night's Olympic Opening Ceremony but in all honesty I really enjoyed almost all of it. Sure, there is a lot you could say about the money spent on it, about the carbon footprint business, about the real state of some of the NHS... but once a country/city has decided to stage the Olympics then something has to be done in terms of ceremony, I suppose, and if something's going to be done then what we saw on Friday night was, for me, as good as it could be (and in some places better). All 3 of us watched it from start to finish (I even watched some of the build-up and enjoyed little features like this one about 2000 medal-winner Denise Lewis).
Of the ceremony I enjoyed:
the enthusiasm of all the volunteers,
the kids in choirs,
the whole young people/social media/pop music section,
the subject of history being raised at all,
the dramatic rising factories,
the NHS/kids books section,
the athletes' parade,
the burning rings,
the Arctic Monkeys,
J.K.Rowling looking a bit terrified (millionaires can be nervous too...),
the Queen looking like she'd really rather be somewhere else (rather than that peach horror of a frock she should really have been wearing a t-shirt that said "too old to give a toss"),
the James Bond bit,
the ridiculous Beckham in the boat bit,
the Olympic flag-bearers (see here)
the Olympic flag-bearers (see here)
and possibly most of all Emeli Sandé singing beautifully (she's Scottish you know - at least one Scottish newspaper had her, cyclist Chris Hoy and JKR on the cover on Saturday...). Apparently US viewers didn't even get to see this part of the ceremony (NBC cut to a sports interview instead) which is a shame as she had such poise, such control - it was really spellbinding. It took a while to find the live performance online but here is a studio version of her doing the song she sang on the night "Abide with me" (words: Henry Francis Lyte, tune:William Henry Monk):
And then... it turned up eventually... here is the segment of the ceremony that features the song:
I was a bit bemused by:
Kenneth Branagh's role and why he had to stride around so much. He was being Brunel, apparently, and not some of the other suggestions, but I'm afraid Brunel has been ruined for me forever because Jeremy "spit on floor" Clarkson picked him as his Great Briton on that TV show back in 2002. In fact another reason I enjoyed the Opening Ceremony was knowing how much people like Clarkson would be hating it. "The NHS! The NHS! Something to be proud of! Agh!!" Maybe it even brought on a few early heart attacks in folks of the little-and-for-whites-only-England persuasion. We can dream. (Oh, I'm only joking... a bit... plus some of them are near relatives so I'm allowed... ).
I was surprised by:
The Mr Bean section (and the Bond sections... I didn't know humour, even gentle humour, was allowed in international ceremonies... what a relief!). I really was expecting the serious classical music to continue after Rattle's entrance and I was surprised and did laugh when it changed tack. I'm not a big fan of Bean or anything but the segment was quite Eric Morecambe in its way (the international language of raised eyebrows and all that) and that can't be bad. Kids will have enjoyed it too - ours managed to stay awake right till the end... so the show was doing something right in terms of reaching a wide age range (apart from her Maj, obviously).
I was not as impressed as everyone else by:
the cauldron thing... it looked like they were all carrying bedpans or something (another NHS reference?). I quite enjoyed watching the designer, Thomas Heatherwick (great name), talk about it on BBC news the next day though (some of that is here). I always love it when not-particularly-media-friendly people get on TV (slick media folk are just so last century...). He talks like a person who hasn't been trained to talk.
and I was totally disapppointed by:
the last item of the night being a ropey version of "Hey Jude" by (yawn) Paul McCartney (I don't use "sir"s - don't believe in 'em). I like McCartney (I love the Beatles... I loved Wings... I even have some of his solo albums... even the one from the HMMcM period) but he is past-his-best and that song has been wheeled out once too often (because people sing along in a feelgood manner...). It was a terrible letdown at the end of pretty great show which was a shame (though if we don't win a medal soon it won't be the only one...).
Reviews of the Opening Ceremony on the whole seem to have been very positive. Partly there was relief, I think, that it had not shamed us internationally (no firework malfunction, no collapsed cauldron...). There was griping online from both political extremes of course but that's to be expected (too many brown faces and loud bass lines for the far right, too much papering over problems for the lefties...). As a bit of leftie myself, I'd have to acknowledge that Country GB is a place where all is not exactly well in many ways... and yet... as a giant defence of the NHS on a world stage.. as a giant declaration of who we are... then and now... it really wasn't bad at all.