November 25, 2010


My journey, I guess you could say, with J K Rowling's Harry Potter began with sitting down to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone back around 2000. I had heard some sort of hoopalah about the book and wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I read it in one sitting. It wasn't a particularly great book, I just found compellingly readable. From there I have read all the books (getting so frustrated with Order of the Phoenix I was frequently yelling at it) and seen all the movies. I'm no big Potter fanboy, but I do know J K Rowling's world.

So now, we come to the beginning of the end: the penultimate film in the series, and the first part of the final story. We start with our three principles preparing and waiting: Ron constantly standing guard outside the Burrow, Harry bidding the Dursleys and his old room under the stairs a farewell and Hermione, in a scene I am very glad they kept, erasing herself from her parents’ memories to protect them. Very quickly we are reminded of where it all began, and more importantly, how much these kids have all grown up.

This is not a film for the uninitiated; you either need to know the six previous films or, preferably, the books. There is a lot of set-up and exposition to take care of, some of it handled alright but other times appearing a tad clunky. For example: if you haven’t read the books you may be wondering where exactly Bill Weasley came from, what he’s doing and why he’s getting married to Fleur DeLacour (from Goblet of Fire).

There is no doubt that this is the darkest of the films so far. Yes, they’ve been saying that since Chamber of Secrets; in this case it is very, very true. Numerous characters are killed and more often than not these occur off-screen with their deaths only mentioned in passing. Instead of coming across as flippant though, this adds to the pervading air of rising menace as beloved characters, who have appeared throughout the series, fall to Voldemort’s forces. They become too many to count. It seems now that Dumbledore has gone, anyone is fair game. These Death Eaters, and those in league with them, are actually, truly frightening villains and not mere cardboard caricatures. Everyone’s favourite pink fascist, Dolores Umbridge, returns and scores herself a plum position in the corrupted Ministry of Magic. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on trial in her darkened court.

In this world of darkness, our three young heroes are cut-off from all their usual comforts (and as a by-product, so is the film): no Hogwarts Express, no Quidditch, no adventures in the school grounds and absolutely no support from parents/professors. From the moment the trio Apparate in Shaftesbury Avenue they’re on their own. The three young actors who have grown up in these roles, Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, are no longer cringe-worthy child performers and Grint, as the usually affable Ron, delivers the best performance of the bunch. There is an embarrassment of British acting talent to round out the supporting roles, some of them barely more than cameos.

For most of the runtime the film moves along at a fair clip, with a number of thrilling early Death Eater attacks; including an aerial assault and a cafĂ© confrontation. However, just like the book, things tend to drag in the middle once the kids start faffing about on a camping trip to stay under the radar in their search for Horcruxes. A few moments work to pump up this stretch of the action, including a frightful encounter at Harry’s old home of Godric’s Hollow. Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. So while it is the darkest of the series, it also carries the most humour. Or, at least, the most humour that works. Add in a wicked animated sequence detailing the story of said Deathly Hallows and it adds up to the most interesting Potter film to date.

It is quite a ride and genuinely is a once-in-a-generation movie series. David Yates is likely to be the director most associated with the Potter franchise in years to come; he has been someone who has built on what came before, while distinguishing himself from the pack. I can't wait to see what he and the team have brewing in the cauldron for the big finale. 

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