“…the wackiest, most ingenious, most creative, funniest and out-and-out most emotional opening ceremony the Olympics have ever seen.”

 

You have to hand it to the Brits.  For weeks now we’ve been hearing about impending disaster at the London Olympics — security failures, transportation disasters, Zil lanes, trademark fascism, and all the rest.  None of this will be remembered, not after last night.

Much was also made of the impossibility of topping the Chinese opening ceremony in 2008.  Can’t remember any of it.  Not now.

“We can be heroes — just for one day,” sang David Bowie as the British Olympians marched at last into the stadium.  Says it all.  That’s what the Brits do, and do better than anyone else, ever.  For all their constant bickering, complaining, protesting, backbiting and just plain fussiness, when the chips are down, and their backs are against the wall, the whingers disappear and Britannia shows up.  From Agincourt to Dunkirk, from Flanders fields to the Battle of Britain, the Brits have faced impossible odds and ermerged covered in glory.  And so it is again.

Because last night saw the wackiest, most ingenious, most creative, funniest and out-and-out most emotional opening ceremony the Olympics have ever seen.  Highlighted with wit, stuffed with pageant, embroidered with elegance and wonderfully punctuated by an eccentricity that only Britain can provide in such stunning profusion and variety, it was riveting, human, constantly entertaining and, I believe, possibly unmatchable by anyone else ever again.

A large part of this owes to the genius of the designers and creators, but they had a remarkable resource to draw on, and they used it brilliantly:  the vast and rich cultural tradition of the realm, and an apparently endless cast of historical Britsih characters straight from the top of the A list, from Shakespeare and Blake to Mary Poppins and Mr. Bean.  And Queen Elizabeth (sort of) parachuting into the stadium with James Bond?  The wonderful thing is not the idea — it’s that she agreed to it.

And when she walked to her seat in the stadium, and the camera came in for a close up, the look on her face was just for a moment a little surprising.  No genial smile, no gracious wave to her fickle subjects — but a curiously determined, almost aggressive expression came over the royal face.  Then we realize, this is a look we know.  Her namesake most likely wore it when the Spanish Armada stood off England’s shore, when Henry V addressed his archers on St. Crispin’s Day, and most recently and notably, when Churchill addressed his nation during the blitz.

This may not have been quite so momentous a moment, or equal in import, but at a time when Europe is (once again) foundering, riven with argument and without much in the way of good news, the Brits have again risen to the occasion, and reminded us all that backbone, brilliance and determination go a long way towards solving insurmountable problems, even something as fearsome as London traffic.  I could almost hear her thinking:  “Some chicken.  Some neck.”

Rule, Britannia.  Others take note.