Horses pulled carriages. Farmers actually harvested wheat. Boys played cricket. Girls danced around the maypole. When the live sheep entered, they got an ovation from the crowd.
Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of “Slumdog Millionaire” and the artistic force behind these opening ceremonies, was just setting us up. He was inviting us to become immersed and involved – to watch the pretty couple playing badminton, to witness soccer become rugby as the players picked up the ball and started bowling through each other with childlike enthusiasm.
Then the show started, and the world changed. Piece by piece, the village was dismantled as top-hatted men chewed cigars and smiled. Smokestacks rose and forges glowed red hot as smoke filled the stadium – a picture of the grime and glory of Victorian England.
It was both tragedy and spectacle, and from it (probably to the International Olympic Committee’s dismay) came the five Olympic rings. As they joined overhead, a shower of sparks rained down on the soot-faced workers below, and London had its Beijing moment – but one far more poignant, because it told a narrative that binds the entire world, and did not shrink in the telling of it.
Throughout the rest of opening ceremony, Boyle did not seek to wow – or even cow – the world. Instead, he invited us all to be British for a day.
And it was rather enjoyable.