Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1
It All Ends Here. Almost. As the decade-spanning juggernaut that is the Harry Potter film franchise rumbles ponderously towards that massively unsatisfying last chapter, we skipped the queues for a preview of what we expected to be a film reminiscent of its predecessors – pretty, but ultimately as disappointing as pulling Neville’s broom keys out of a bowl at a wizarding swingers’ party. We were wrong. If Part 2 is this good, the last two films may just vindicate the entire series.
There is no experience in my sensory repertoire as bittersweet as watching a new Harry Potter film for the first time. If, like me, it’s years since you’ve revisited the stories in print, there is a certain unavoidable pleasure in being reminded of subplots and characters you’d all but forgotten. However, the flip side of this voyage of rediscovery is the inevitable disappointment as you realise that Warner Bros. have once again failed to make a film which lives up to your expectations or your imagination; Hogwarts isn’t exciting enough, Draco isn’t blonde enough, Hermione still speaks as if she’s carved out of a particularly inflexible piece of wood. Well, no longer. Emma Watson may be growing steadily more Petrified with age, but in almost every other respect the penultimate Harry Potter film is unquestionably the best yet.
Lest we forget, the final act of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince saw the death of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and the renewed rise to power of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who gains influence within the Ministry of Magic and begins a genocidal campaign against Muggle-born witches and wizards. Unwilling to stay at Hogwarts – it’s not like he was relying on the EMA, if we’re honest – Harry (Radcliffe) resolves to seek out the remaining Horcruxes, six artefacts imbued with a fraction of Voldemort’s soul.
After the Order of the Phoenix facilitates Harry’s escape from Privet Drive, he is forced to acknowledge the fact that by going into hiding he is simply endangering his protectors. Accompanied, as ever, by Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson), Harry narrowly escapes an assault by Death Eaters at the Weasley crib and goes rogue, living rough (well, as rough as is possible when your tent has a mezzanine) as he scours England for the remaining Horcruxes. However, the trio’s task becomes even more urgent and dangerous when they learn of the existence of the Deathly Hallows, three magical objects of unequalled power which, should they be held by one wizard, would grant him mastery over Death itself. All together now: shiiiiiiiiit.
It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a damn sight better than any of its predecessors. David Yates, who became the only Harry Potter director to return for a third film (he made the last four, including both halves of Deathly Hallows), has really got into his stride, pushing the limits of possibility in what frequently seems too dark a film to be 12A-rated. There are violent deaths onscreen, more blood than you could shake Madam Pomfrey at and some unexpected raunchiness, although in fairness the latter was mostly necessitated by the traditionally clunky Harry Potter scripts combined with the increasingly suppressive effect Emma Watson’s breasts have had on her acting ability. Thank God an adult can convey more through a pissed-off look than can a preteen; the lessened dialogue in the later films is a relief.
The pressure on the central trio was, admittedly, unprecedented, with almost every other character appearing in little more than a cameo role; this unbalance will be corrected in Part 2 as the Second Wizarding War gets under way, of course, but for now it is very welcome as the inevitable celebrity-packed Hogwarts scenes are replaced by uncharacteristically intelligent sequences with potential for actual character-building. It’s actually quite a treat to realise how far Radcliffe and Grint have come.
Freed from the inevitably formulaic framing of the school year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is in many respects a mature and well-made road movie with interesting extras. It’s got decent action sequences – incantations went out the window the moment someone realised that a wand which emits blasts of concussive force can be used like a gun – and a lone scene which boasts impeccable horror credentials. The magic stays as exciting and visually arresting as ever despite being much less OTT, and the final shot is one of the best cliffhangers I have ever seen. I cannot bloody wait for July.
Movie Rating: 4/5
Many thanks to John Underwood from Best For Film Where this review was first printed, the guys at Best For Film are good friends of The Peoplesmovies, if you say hello to them remember to tell them where you heard about them first!