12 Jun 2012

‘Green and pleasant’ Games opening ceremony

The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics will feature the UK as a “green and pleasant land”, complete with farmers, grazing cattle, meadows and theatrical clouds that will rain down on the ceremony.

Preview model of the opening ceremony of the Olympic games (Reuters)

With its rolling hills and thatched cottages, it might look like a scene from an Enid Blyton novel or a Miss Marple mystery. But it is in fact a model for the set of the Olympic opening ceremony, unveiled today by the man who brought us the films Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire – Danny Boyle.

Perhaps surprisingly, this time he’s taken his inspiration from William Blake’s vision of England’s “green and pleasant land”. So the set’s made up of a real meadow, a live cricket match and real farmyard animals – including 12 horses, three cows and 70 sheep. There’s also a fake cloud pouring rain (just in case the real clouds should let us down) and a representation of Glastonbury Tor, with its own mosh pit at the bottom. Opposite is a “posh” pit representing standing room only at the Last Night of the Proms.

As Boyle explained at this morning’s press conference: “It’s interesting, this green and pleasant, and because it is something that still exists… It’s spread across all our lands but it’s also disappeared as well… But it’s also mythical, it’s in our brains as part of ourselves. This ideal, which is kind of like a childhood memory in a way – all of us in some degree are attached to it.”

The entire set for the show will be surrounded by a parade ground for the 10,000 arriving athletes, representing the sea which surrounds our island nation. Although the Olympic Games are technically hosted by a city rather than a country, organisers of the London Games are keen to engage people who live in all four nations of the UK. These are represented in the set by their national flowers, each displayed on a maypole.

This ideal, which is kind of like a childhood memory in a way – all of us in some degree are attached to it. Danny Boyle

Olympic opening ceremonies have also tended to be monocultural – everyone taking part in the Beijing ceremony for example was Chinese. This approach would obviously be inappropriate for the London Games. But by opening with a heavily nostalgic image of the British countryside, organisers run the risk of ignoring the reality of modern, multicultural Britain.

As Patrick Hayes of Spiked magazine told me, “This is actually a very elitist vision of what it is to be British. It seems to be upper middle class, white, very oriented towards the countryside. It’s a very Midsummer Murders vision of what it is to be Britain. 90 per cent of the population live in urban areas. This isn’t the reality for normal people living in Britain today.”

But it’s important to point out that what’s been revealed today constitutes only the opening sequence of what will be a three-hour show. And Danny Boyle insists that later sequences in the show will reflect modern Britain – and its diverse population. Although he admits that he is expecting some negative responses. “It’s an impossible task this to capture all of us. You’re bound to fail, that’s built in. You know it’s bound to fail. But on the journey to succeed, you hope people will find enough to say, Yeah that’s us, that’s representative of us.”

The opening ceremony for the Olympic Games will begin at 9pm on the 27 July.