World press entranced by 'utterly British' Games opener
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
The world's press Saturday gushed over the glittering and "utterly British" opening ceremony for the London Olympic Games.
After seven years of planning, the Games kicked off Friday in a gleaming new stadium in a once rundown area of the British capital with a colourful showcase devised by "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation described the extravaganza, watched by an estimated one billion TV viewers around the world, as a "whimsical, riotous and very British spectacle." Britain's often sceptical press all ran upbeat headlines about the four-hour show that played out in front of 80,000 spectators in the Olympic Stadium in east London.
"Brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers and utterly British," wrote the Daily Telegraph, while the hard-to-please Daily Mail went with "Blast-Off!", splashing a picture of five Olympic rings showering fireworks onto the stage below during the ceremony.
More than 80 world leaders and royals attended the show, which kept Boyle's promise to showcase British history while maintaining the nation's quirky sense of humour, tracing time from a bucolic past through the Industrial Revolution.
The show even included a tribute to Britain's state-run National Health Service, with children wearing pyjamas bouncing on 320 hospital beds.
French newspapers said they had fallen under the spell of a show permeated by a typically British sense of humour.
"The ceremony offered yesterday to the entire world by the British was unusually bold, poetic and funny," wrote the sports daily L'Equipe.
"History, magic and emotion," added the daily Le Parisien.
The Sydney Morning Herald said Boyle's showpiece "did not take itself too seriously, but was never trivial. It was irreverent, but never disrespectful. It was clever, but did not outsmart itself. It was at once subversive and sublime." Sydney hosted the Olympics 12 years ago, and The Australian newspaper said Boyle had sought to match the city for creativity and "deploy the wit and the self-awareness that the Chinese lacked" at the 2008 Beijing games.
"Celebrating everything from punk music to social media and the Internet, the ceremony deliberately revelled in the chaos of Britain's free society and popular culture in an obvious retort to the breath-taking order and intimidating precision and scale of Beijing's opening ceremony," The Australian said.
"The result was not quite as charming as Sydney's ceremony, on which it was modelled, nor as overwhelming and grandiose as Beijing's but it was vibrant, stimulating and eclectic, just like London itself." US papers joined in the chorus of praise, The New York Times describing the fete as "a wild jumble of the celebratory and the fanciful".
"It was neither a nostalgic sweep through the past nor a bold vision of a brave new future," wrote Times correspondent Sarah Lyall. "Rather, it was a sometimes slightly insane portrait of a country that has changed almost beyond measure since the last time it hosted the Games, in the grim postwar summer of 1948." Noting the roles played by renowned British celebrities such as "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, Beatle Paul McCartney, Kenneth Branagh and Rowan "Mr Bean" Atkinson, The Wall Street Journal said however that "no star was bigger than Queen Elizabeth II." Spectators were treated to footage of the queen, in her first acting role, meeting James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, in Buckingham Palace, after which stuntmen playing Bond and the queen parachuted into the stadium just as the actual monarch was making her appearance in the Royal Box.
"It could well have been the most astonishing moment in modern Olympic history," Australia's News Limited said.