Danny Boyle, perhaps best known for his production of the film Slum Dog Millionaire had the proverbial hard act to follow—- the Bejing opening ceremonies extravaganza. Boyle said, in his press release, that in some ways it was liberating that the 2008 ceremonies were so jaw-droppingly spectacular, as he realized there was no competing with that. And so he did not try—- well, not really.
Besides the fun film gag of Bond (Daniel Craig)in Buckingham Palace meeting the real Queen and then being dropped by helicopter into the Olympic stadium, the basic story line that Boyle followed was a chronicle of the history of modern Great Britain from its agrarian culture to ‘the dark Satanic mills’ (the very words of William Blake in his famous poem ‘Jerusalem’) of the Industrial Revolution, and beyond to the modern Olympic games.
Boyle went on to say that the Industrial Revolution, birthed as it was in the U.K., was the most important event in human history. Were that actually the case, it would be hard to explain much of the music that played during these ceremonies. For a start there was the Blake hymn Jerausalem, suggesting of course that ‘the green and pleasant land’ of England was the new Jerusalem. Not quite Biblical, but patriotic enough to be sure. But this was followed by a Welch choir of children singing ‘Guide Me O thou Great Jehovah’ and followed by the theme from Chariots of Fire, a film about a Christian who would not race on a Sunday in the Olympics! (of course somewhat upstaged by the hilarious antics of Mr. Bean playing the one note drone of the theme on the keyboard and then running on the beach). Interestingly, this all morphed into a scene celebrating ‘children’s literature’ (with J.K. Rowling doing a reading, which followed a reading from the Tempest) and the national health service (hence nurses and beds all over the pitch!). The children’s literature in question was mostly written by Christians like Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling.
This is no knock on all the fabulous work the Salvation Army and churches do for the poor in this country, and all the charitable and pro bono work done by doctors and hospitals as well. But let’s be clear its patchwork and piecemeal compared to the British National Health. No, its not a perfect solution to health care problems…. but it’s way better than what we’ve got. I for one would gladly pay lots more in taxes if it meant we had a truly comprehensive healthcare system for everyone in this country. I just would. We could debate how best to make that happen, but not, I think, that it would be the most humane thing for it to happen.
But back to the Olympics opening ceremony. Had Boyle paid attention, he would have realized that all those British choir boys provided the real clue to the greatest event in human history— not those belching chimney stacks. It was not the rise of the Industrial Revolution, but the rise of Jesus Christ that really changed the world, and that event runs Olympic sized rings around the Industrial Revolution in terms of what has most mattered to the most people and has most changed their lives over the last 2,000 (not 200) years.