Rewatching some of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on the television this evening, I was reminded of how little I have liked the Harry Potter movies. Unlike the books which have a magical appeal for readers whatever their age, the films seemed to me to be very much about children and for children. And not in a good way – dodgy acting, dodgy direction, dodgy effects, worse than dodgy dialogue. But when I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (based on the only HP book I have not read), here was a different type of film altogether.
HP7.1 picks up after the death of Dumbledore. Our three battle-scarred heroes have now left Hogwarts and have little but their own wits, courage and magic to protect them as they hunt for the remaining Horcruxes. These objects, when destroyed, will see the demise of Voldemort once and for all. But along their journey, Harry, Hermione and Ron also discover the existence of the Deathly Hallows, as does Voldemort.
The clue to why this should be so much better a film than its HP predecessors may be found in that brief synopsis: the three are now young adults and Hogwarts no longer features. The safety cushion of school, teachers, other students does not exist anymore. After six films which relied so heavily on the school walls of Hogwarts, the school pastimes of quidditch or potion lessons, it was refreshing and thrilling to see the action take place in the far more dangerous and uncontained world outside. Harry, Ron and Hermione have grown up.
The three young actors, just like their characters, have grown almost beyond recognition. Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have both stretched their acting mettle outside the HP universe. Emma Watson, from my hometown of Oxford where much of these movies has been filmed over the years, has focused on education. But arguably Emma is the winner of the HP7.1’s acting laurels and no doubt she has quite an acting future ahead of her if she picks it.
As usual, there is expert support from some of Britain’s finest actors, including Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Julie Walters and Imelda Staunton to name just an awful lot. Much as I enjoy Michael Gambon, I was not sorry that this film was without the endless earnest conversations between Harry and Dumbledore. At last, Harry is free to make his own life or death decisions.
The ages of the characters, now 17, means that there is a lot more angst and tension in their relationships with one another. But it isn’t laboured. Clearly, the three actors know each other so well now, this may explain some of the perfect little glances between them, especially from Hermione, which speak far more than words.
HP7.1 is an exciting film and it looks wonderful. The scenery is stunning and the way that the characters jump between landscapes and equally startling interiors is exhilarating. Although the film is two and a half hours long, time flew – a distinct contrast to the previous films and a recommendation in itself. The earlier films highlight just how good the conclusion is and will be and demonstrate how far three young actors have come as they have grown, just like so many youngsters for whom HP has been a constant companion. Now, adults can get a look in.