07/28/2012 01:55 EDT | Updated 09/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Long live the queen! Royal raves for role in Olympic opening ceremony

LONDON - A quirky Olympic opening ceremony reminded the world of Britain's rich cultural heritage, and an elderly monarch was remade as a pop-culture icon. So far, so good.

The queen's show-stopper has given the London Games a fresh start from security concerns, grousing about traffic and some ill-received comments by visiting U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Now Britain is determined that these won't be the Grumbling Games.

The nation's curmudgeonly media reflected the warm glow of the Olympic cauldron on Saturday by lavishing widespread acclaim on the opening ceremony.

Even if the lighting of the flame by seven unknown teenagers was slightly underwhelming, the show-stopping moment had already been provided by Queen Elizabeth II making her acting debut alongside James Bond in a film beamed into the Olympic Stadium.

"I was worried that there was too much self-parody, that the world might be laughing at us," wrote columnist Giles Coren in The Times of London. "But they were laughing with us. They were silently awed."

He wasn't wrong.

"Often seen as reserved and unapproachable, the Queen changed all that alongside James Bond," wrote German newspaper Die Welt.

The 86-year-old Elizabeth greeted Bond actor Daniel Craig at Buckingham Palace and then appeared to fly to the stadium before parachuting to the ground. Moments later, the real Elizabeth appeared with husband Prince Philip to be greeted by the crowd.

The sequence has already provided the defining images of the games, according to Sydney's Daily Telegraph in Australia, where the queen also reigns.

"A few hundred years ago director Danny Boyle could have been sent to the Tower for even suggesting such treason," the newspaper said. "But as if to show how far England and the monarchy have come in that time, Her Majesty not only let Boyle get away with it. She was actually in on the joke."

And, according to Boyle, the queen, who has reigned for 60 years, was a natural in the role.

"You don't have to tell her something twice. ... She is a good actor," Boyle told NBC.

It was the eccentricity of the four-hour show that was so beguiling -"a complete assault on the senses," according to Britain's Olympics minister, Hugh Robertson.

Charlotte Higgins of Britain's Guardian newspaper praised Boyle for creating a ceremony that was "simultaneously silly and earnest, mainstream and subversive."

Die Welt welcomed Boyle's romp through a couple of centuries of British history, charting the industrial decline and the rise of pop culture after noting "authoritarian traits" in Beijing's extravaganza four years ago.

The stadium reverberated to the sound of Britain's world-conquering music — from hymns to the Sex Pistols, Rolling Stones and former Beatle Paul McCartney, who closed the show.

Luis Bassat, who presided over the 1992 ceremony in Barcelona, was left wanting more.

"The medley of popular music gave a good impression of the number of songs and performers, but failed to make clear Britain's pop music supremacy," Bassat wrote in Spanish daily El Pais.

Parts of the world questioned Boyle for including segments that seemed incomprehensible beyond the British Isles, including a tribute to the state-funded National Health Service. Even a legislator in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party was surprised by that.

"We all love the NHS, but really for all the people watching overseas, 20 minutes of children and nurses jumping on beds, that seems quite strange," said Aidan Burley, a member of the House of Commons.

But Burley was a rare dissenting voice in Britain, and provoked fury by claiming that Boyle filled the ceremony with "leftie multicultural" messages.

"It wasn't just Big Ben and Beefeaters and red buses and stuff," London Mayor Boris Johnson said. "It was actually the truth about this country in the last two or three hundred years told in a big, dynamic way.

"People say it was all leftie stuff. That is nonsense. I'm a Conservative and I had hot tears of patriotic pride from the beginning. I was blubbing."


Rob Harris can be reached at