Danny Boyle has never been one to stand still. From his earliest film, with a tiny cast of (then) relatively unknown actors, he has moved with assurance through genres, adapted to a range of budgets and yet still produced many times work that has in its own way been quietly groundbreaking. No wonder then that his direction, for a few hours, held the attention of viewers across the world.
Looking back though Boyle’s filmography, it’s difficult to see how it could have been any other way. An acclaimed British director famous on the world stage, his most recent film displaying much of the spectacle and panache which brought the Opening Ceremony to life. His finesse in balancing the colourful exuberance of Indian culture with the more sober moments of reflection and tranquility in Slumdog Millionaire can be seen again here, where the choreography of the dance sequences in the Ceremony could both excite when required, but also reflect on moments which must be difficult to articulate, such as the 7/7 London bombings. Telling stories on stage and without words rather than through a screen undoubtedly provided new challenges, but Boyle has always been a very visual director.
The science-fiction Sunshine, with its dramatic celestial cinematography , manages to tell a story without a reliance on dialogue or explanation, instead leaving us to enjoy for ourselves the journey of the aptly-named Icarus. The same could be said of 28 Days Later, where huge sections of the film are completely without dialogue, including the unnerving opening sequence where a confused patient wakes up alone in an abandoned London.
Eighteen years ago, however, at the premier of his first film, Shallow Grave, you would have been hard pressed to tell where Boyle was heading. This is a film which focusses on details, the individual nuances of three main characters displayed with precision as they struggle to deal with the pressures associated with the suitcase of money they find. Trainspotting too followed similar lines, Ewan McGregor returning to work with Danny Boyle again in a character driven drama concerning crime and heroin-addiction. Boyle has retained a liking for collaborating with those he has worked with before: the musical directors for the Olympics, the band Underworld, have also worked both on the film Sunshine and on Boyle’s recent stage production of Frankenstein, whilst composer Allah Rahman returned from his work on Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to write an Olympic piece.
Beijing was always going to be a tough act to follow, but London managed to be something a little different. Rather than impressing through scale and grandeur, Boyle turned to some of the aspects of British culture actually worth celebrating. The choice of the NHS as the centre of one of the pieces, and the recognition of Tim Berners-Lee in another are two things perhaps not immediately obvious to display, yet in fact are more relevant than any number of drummers beating in time. It is perhaps this willingness to experiment that has more than anything characterised Boyle’s work.