That was the intended effect, anyway, of a short film featuring the royal corgis, Queen Elizabeth II (in her first acting role) and her unlikely buddy, current Bond interpreter Daniel Craig. The film ended with QE2 and 007 ready to jump, just as a real-life copter appeared over the 65,000 attendees at the Olympic Stadium. A less geriatric stand-in for the sovereign presumably plummeted forth, a Union Jack parachute deploying behind. Then the real queen, poker-faced as always, entered her box seat with a wave.
Casting her majesty as the latest Bond girl was a bit of a coup, and a stroke of genius, from Ceremonies director Danny Boyle, the British filmmaker best known for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Boyle conjured his trademark magical realism to tell Britain’s story in theater, dance, film and pyrotechnics — a spectacle drawing on the cinematic aerobics of an Oscars telecast and the boom-boom choreography of a Super Bowl halftime show. It was stunning and stirring at its beginning and end, and a kinetic, bloody mess in between, hampered further by NBC’s self-promotional commercial breaks, which fractured continuity and stalled momentum.
The pasture set piece, featuring real sod and real hay and real sheep, was a stage for a British history lesson overseen by a top-hatted Kenneth Branagh, who quoted lines from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in a nod to its island setting, which inspired Boyle’s schematic of “isles of wonder,” i.e. the British Isles. (Get it?) In the Ceremonies’ most audacious segment, the pasture transformed into a smelting factory to show Britain’s transition from an agrarian society to an industrial one. Towering smokestacks rose from the ground and a river of fake molten steel flowed to form a glowing Olympic ring, which ascended to the sky as four more rings flew in from the edges of the stadium to form the Games’ logo. The effect was stunning and unified.
Then things got slapdash. Nurses pushed children on trampoline beds into the stadium to celebrate Britain’s National Health Service. (Hey, Mitt! Britain will take your thoughts on socialized medicine now.) The great villains of children’s literature, led by a 100-foot puppet of Lord Voldemort, spooked the children, only to be vanquished by an equally terrifying swarm of Mary Poppinses that descended by umbrellas from the sky. The media-shy “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling read a few lines from “Peter Pan,” and then Rowan Atkinson, exhuming his Mr. Bean character for the evening’s cheekiest non sequitur, “played” the synthesizer on “Chariots of Fire” with the London Symphony Orchestra. At one point, soccer superstar Beckham was shown ferrying the torch by motorboat up the Thames.
NBC, hewing to history, staged its own revolution against the Brits by deploying Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, whose unctuous scripted lines and painful ad-libs soured moment after moment.