Whatever your opinion may be on whether £9.2bn of public money was well spent on a school sports day with delusions of grandeur – an egg and spoon race with a proud erection, if you will - it would be a hard heart indeed that didn’t swell with pride at least a couple of times during The Olympics’ opening ceremony extravaganza. Indeed, Britain’s socialists, right-wingers, fence-sitters and don’t knowers appeared united for once, all having felt the same unfamiliar twang of national pride in the perineum, all equally flabbergasted that this funny little nation of ours (which normally thrives on being a bit rubbish so it can moan about how it’s a bit rubbish) managed to pull something off so exuberantly.
An opening ceremony in a time of Tory rule which wore its left-wing bias so openly, and one which threw in Dizzee Rascal, Glastonbury, Kenneth Branagh, The NHS, punk, dance, rock and soul, fake rainclouds AND Tim Berners-Lee (such a great touch), showed the balls and humour that this nation has in spades, but which is usually smothered beneath asinine committee deliberations, tiresome cynicism, or Britain’s bizarre international inferiority complex.
So, all hail Danny Boyle, the Lancashire lad whose job it was to organise the whole shebang, who knocked it right out of the Olympic Park. And yet, the fact that he put together a decent shindig isn’t the only reason to indulge in the type of Boyle love - perhaps it’s a good time to remember why the wee chap is one of the best, most interesting British directors working today.
Now, ofcourse, this is entirely subjective, but even in Boyle’s less well-received work (A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach) there is still much to admire, and each of these has fans who will defend them vehemently. For this hack, A Life Less Ordinary is perfectly enjoyable if a little throwaway, while The Beach is tense and excellent despite suffering from comparisons to its superior source material. On the other hand, Boyle is responsible for more than a few stone-cold whoppers: Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Sunshine, 28 Days Later, 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire are all classics, which is doubly surprising considering how wildly different each of these films is from all the others. Because...
Not many directors can say they’ve succeeded in gritty social drama, romantic comedy, jet-black comedy, horror, hard sci-fi and feelgood epics. Boyle has, and he never seems content to dwell in a groove of filmmaking in which he either feels comfortable or has found success. He thrives in being out of his comfort zone (after 127 Hours he directed the stage version of Frankenstein, before moving on to the Olympics gig), and seems to produce his best work when testing himself. But, whatever the genre, his films are united by...
The Iggy Pop-sprinkled opening scene of Trainspotting is surely one of the most iconic in the history of British cinema, but Boyle’s distinctive artistic flourishes can be seen in each of his films, from the revelatory through-the-floorboards pan of Shallow Grave; the painterly, static shots of 28 Days Later; the handheld freneticism of 127 Hours, to the videogame sequence of The Beach or the resplendent, rich colour palette of Slumdog Millionaire. His films, regardless of tone and subject matter, all look superb; showing Boyle’s inimitable verve, confidence and relentless panache.
Not only does he choose his projects, apparently, on the basis of how different they are from those he’s taken on previously, but each one contains risks within itself. So, when it came to an apocalyptic zombie movie, Boyle chose to open the film with Cillian Murphy’s cock and end it with a solemn exploration the depths of human nature; in 127 Hours he opted to show the severing of an arm in brutal and brave detail; and in Trainspotting, he controversially showed the camaraderie and ecstasy that comes with heroin, making its juxtaposition with the horror and stark misery that follows all the more jarring. Plus, a director so successful with the kind of subject matter not exactly suited to a PG certificate going on to make Slumdog showed that there is also risk in not being controversial. And Boyle has a clutch of Oscars upon his mantle which suggest that this was yet another gamble he took, and won.
Three films which, arguably, did more for British film in the past two decades than any others were Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Full Monty, and Trainspotting. Yet it was Boyle’s effort which matched success with swagger and bollocks, showcasing British film internationally, and, for a while making us look quite cool indeed.
There is a common feeling amongst meeja types that Mr Boyle appears to be, quite simply, a jolly good egg. In a recent Guardian article a former artistic director of the London Film Festival said "He's just a very decent human being: so straightforward and pleasant to deal with and very generous with himself," and that, at a student Q and A, "Danny was the last to leave. He stuck around answering every student's question." There appears to be a wide consensus that he’s one of the good guys in the industry (no-one seems to have a bad word to say about him) and this is backed up by the way he comes across in interviews and TV appearances, in which you wish more than anything that he was your uncle. You just want to kiss his lovely, smiley face. Once all the Olympic hoopla has died down, we hope that Boyle gets back to what he does best: producing films that are a credit both to himself and the British film industry as a whole. Danny Boyle, we salute you.