LONDON – There will be sheep. A cricket game. Nurses. Plus Paul McCartney and possibly James Bond.
Officials want details of the 27 million-pound ($42.3 million) London Olympics opening ceremony to be a secret so that viewers can be surprised, but director Danny Boyle has already disclosed select details: Real farm animals on meadows; plows and maypoles; an idyllic picture of England as the "green and pleasant land;" a dance number featuring nurses and a closing song by McCartney.
Many reports are also suggesting a pre-recorded segment filmed inside Buckingham Palace featuring actor Daniel Craig as Bond, and a stuntman dressed as 007 who will parachute into the stadium to start the show. Later, the pastoral first act will be replaced by a grim scene reenacting a coal-blackened, industrial Britain at the mercy of towering chimney stacks and giant cogs.
How will it all come together?
The ceremony's mastermind, filmmaker Boyle, has stressed that the 3-hour show will take viewers on a sweeping journey through Britain's history, one that captures the nation's identity, values, heritage, as well as its present and future. In their own ways, each of the elements represents some aspect of Englishness — though some in quirkier ways than others.
Seventy sheep are set to star in the ceremony, alongside 12 horses, 10 chickens and three sheep dogs. Britain may no longer be the farm-based economy it used to be, but no less than 50,000 sheep farms still dot the nation's fields — the largest sheep flock in the 27-nation European Union. But the animals have been chosen for a far more symbolic reason: Shepherds and the pastoral life have long been romanticized by British writers like Edmund Spenser, and at every patriotic event Britons belt out the glories of "England's pleasant pastures" to William Blake's anthem "Jerusalem."
Animal rights activists are none too pleased that farm animals have been roped in to perform, however. The group Viva! has complained that the show "smacks of the Roman gladiatorial arena.
Each of Great Britain's four nations — England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — will be represented by a maypole topped with their national flowers. A pagan folk symbol, the maypole is still commonly erected in British villages during May Day celebrations (as well as elsewhere in Europe) to celebrate the return of warmer weather.
"It's an essential part of rural life," said Peter Halfpenney, the "squire" — or president — of a Morris dancing group. He was delighted that Boyle chose to feature maypoles but disappointed that Morris dancers — often ridiculed for their folksy costumes — don't get to take part.
Is there a sport more English than cricket? Played and followed avidly in Commonwealth countries like New Zealand, South Africa and India, the sport's many technical rules — and the lack of fast, exciting action — baffle almost everyone else. Fans love the "gentleman's sport" for the strategy and patience it requires.
Boyle has disclosed there will be a dance number of nurses celebrating the National Health Service, the country's universal health program. Not only that: performers were recruited from the NHS. Why? To Britons, nurses are the tough, strong and matronly face of the NHS, a nationally cherished post-war institution.
BOND, JAMES BOND
Fast cars, fast women, Martinis shaken not stirred: The super spy 007 needs little introduction. First introduced by writer Ian Fleming in 1953, the fictional British secret agent is the protagonist in the longest-running film franchise to date, with Craig the latest incarnation in a long line. The Bond character's dress, cars and expensive tastes ooze British sophistication.
Wellies, flooded campgrounds, no showers for days — the Glastonbury music festival is a summer rite of passage for many Britons. Started by farmer Michael Eavis in 1970 the day after Jimi Hendrix died, it has taken place every year since then in Somerset. Rain, hippies, music and mud — sounds like a recipe for an open-air Boyle extravaganza.