by Allan Fish
p David Barron, David Heyman, J.K.Rowling d David Yates w Steve Kloves novel J.K.Rowling ph Eduardo Serra ed Mark Day m Alexandre Desplat art Stuart Craig
Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Ciaran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonnegall), Julie Walters (Mrs Weasley), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), David Bradley (Argus Filch), Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew), Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Clemence Poésy (Fleur Delacroux), John Hurt (Mr Ollivander), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn), Kelly MacDonald (Helena Ravenclaw), Warwick Davis (Filius Flitwick/Griphook), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Leslie Phillips (the sorting hat), Geraldine Somerville (Lily Potter), Miriam Margolyes (Pomona Sprout), Gemma Jones (Madame Pomfrey),
Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledore), Ian Hart (Professor Quirrel), John Cleese (Nearly Headless Nick), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia Dursley), Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon Dursley), Toby Jones (voice of Dobby), Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley), Kenneth Branagh (Gilderoy Lockhart), Zoe Wanamaker (Madame Hooch), Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtyl), Christian Coulson (Tom Riddle), Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge), Roger Lloyd Pack (Barty Crouch Snr), David Tennant (Barty Crouch Jnr), Pam Ferris (Aunt Marge), Julie Christie (Madame Rosmerta), Robert Pattinson (Cedric Diggory), Eric Sykes (Frank Bryce), Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody), Frances de la Tour (Madame Olympe Maxime), Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter), Jessica Hynes (Mafalda Hopkirk), Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), Bill Nighy (Rufus Scrimgeour), Rhys Ifans (Xenophilius Lovegood),
Prior to seeing the final instalment in the critic proof fantasy franchise, I tokenistically listed them in the Final Apologies section of this tome. The entry read as follows:
“Chris Columbus’ first two Potter films were aimed solely at making money, at which they succeed admirably. Alan Rickman stole the first, Kenneth Branagh the second, in both of which the most cinematic interest was in the design of Stuart Craig. The third directed by Alfonso Cuaron was undoubtedly tighter (David Thewlis stood out), but had a less interesting if thankfully darker plot (obviously much butchered from the doorstopper sized book) and split fans down the middle. The fourth in 2005 was better still, retaining the darkness of the third instalment but with a more satisfying plot. Sadly, Year Five was a major disappointment, enlivened solely by Imelda Staunton’s nasty supporting turn, and the delay on the release of Year Six correctly told us that it wouldn’t exactly be an improvement. It wasn’t bad, but it was devoid of any real imagination or originality, so we were left to hope that the final two parter would round things off satisfactorily. Part one may not have had much plot, essentially manoeuvring the players into position for the final battle, but there was a more emotional, darker resonance which hopefully bodes well for the last part, with Emma Watson’s Hermione and Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort especially given chance to shine.” It was a hope only that the final instalment would rally the series into one rather appropriately desperate final stand and be the best of the bunch. Not good enough for inclusion in the text, mind you, but a valiant send-off. Yet here I am, the above paragraph has been deleted from the Final Apologies and Harry makes it into the main text. What on earth could have happened?
We’ve all had to eat our words. I mean, I remember seeing Braindead and thinking that Peter Jackson could no more make a great film than I could make a six course dinner…in the dark. And who could have not winced at seeing Curtis Hanson’s name attached to LA Confidential? But here the problem wasn’t with the director…or was it? David Yates had shown with his work on the small screen (State of Play for the BBC, Sex Traffic for Channel 4) that he was a director of stature, but he had the misfortune to take over the franchise after Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell had delivered the best Potter films yet made. Yet perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and to use the David Copperfield examplar, we’ll begin Harry’s life with the beginning of his life and record that he was born. And that’s where the trouble began…
With David Copperfield. Yes, David Copperfield, and perhaps there’s something in that. Once children had read, or had read to them, Charles Dickens’ novels, either in instalments or in the final tome form. Once children loved to read, but then they didn’t. They had Playstations, or at least Nintendo and Sega, they had sport, and they didn’t have time for reading. How lame. J.K.Rowling got kids reading again. Made it cool to read, at a time when the youth of the age were increasingly seeing proper English as a forrign language to textspeak, and all the grammar in the world was tossed aside in favour of LOL, OMG and all the rest of the hideous acronyms that are killng our language and our generation’s literacy. We shall never see the like of Rowling’s phenomenon again. And if Rowling is no Dickens, she savours the English language – not for nothing are her character names so multi-syllabic, names to roll around the tongue as children once rolled fruit pastilles. Just like Dickens’ come to that. And it was in the last week of December 1999, with the Millennium Bug on everyone’s minds that the BBC broadcast their latest classic adaptation…of David Copperfield. Maggie Smith was Aunt Betsey and rivalled Edna May Oliver (no mean feat), while an unknown kid played David; Daniel Radcliffe.
With the phenomenon of the Potter books, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood got involved. Naturally Spielberg wanted to Americanise it – “dude, where’s my wand?“, one winces as if someone had set off a claxon in your ear lobe. He quickly retreated, realising that he’d have been sent more hate mail than present requests sent to Lapland and probabaly have some wish he was fed to his own CGI T-Rex. Chris Columbus was chosen, and while the first two films were rather formulaic affairs, they did at least capture the flavour of the books and one has to remember what many were forgetting when comparing it unfavourably to Jackson’s trilogy. Both series of novels were written for children, but Harry, Ron and Hermione were children themselves. The hobbits were little, but they were adults with adult desires and attitudes. So Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets were made by a man as if made for an audience of that age. Sticking to the spirit of the book was enough.
It took Alfonso Cuaron to bring some more gravitas to proceedings in Prisoner of Azkaban, but the plot wasn’t up to his darker vision. Nonetheless, Emma Watson stepped forward, no longer the over-eager kid in the school play, but a real girl. Goblet of Fire was better still, then the anticlimax of Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince and the mixed signals of what seemed to many a redundant first half to Deathly Hallows. Few could have expected anything special. Most fans if polled would have taken a film better than the previous three. I’d probably have settled for the same, bought the Blu Ray, eventually have upgraded all the others when cheap enough and then never only watched them again every few years or so to try and remember what all the fuss was about.
What happened, to quote my earlier bemoan at myself, was beyond anyone’s expectations. Everyone contributed to the piece, aiming not merely to be the best of the series, but reach an emotional zenith worthy of a ten year wait. When the Hogwarts Express first left Platform 9 at King’s Cross, the first Lord of the Rings film hadn’t been released. Now The Hobbit hovers large on the horizon and there are lessons learned from Middle Earth. Yates’ direction trounces his lackadaisical work on the previous three episodes, Desplat’s score hits the emotional highs more than even John Williams managed and the cast all give their all. I could have omitted some of those listed above to make more room, and yet however briefly glimpsed some of the stars were, they were each indispensable in the cosmic alignment of the final battle, and you’ll also notice in the cast list the famous names who have contributed in earlier films, as well as a joint credit for one character, for how could one forget the contributions of Richard Harris before he was finally summoned to the big bar room in the sky. So while we praise the work of all, and Rickman, Gambon and the delicious Fiennes in particular, save the applause for the three at the heart of this tale. Never have three children grown up so much under the public eye. That they have turned out so switched on and relatively down to earth despite this is a credit to them, and one can feel a special bond between the trio, not just the characters, but this time it’s Radcliffe who steps up to the plate, earning his peers and the audience’s respect as a worthy adversary to not just Voldemort but to Fiennes. One can offer no finer compliment. And if the films may not have enriched the cinema as art, they literally put the magic back when it was an increasingly rare commodity. I wish Daniel, Emma and Rupert all the best in their future endeavours, and can only say that I am extremely jealous of them. Not of the press attention, of course. Not of playing the roles, I’m no actor. Not even of their multi million fortunes that should ensure both them and their real life children will never have to work – okay, maybe slightly, we could all do with a fraction of it. But jealous because of what they now have the opportunity of doing; working purely for the pleasure of doing something you love. Rupert is a natural who looks like he’d be happy even if working in repertory, while Dan seems interested in testing himself and doing projects to challenge not to keep in the limelight. Then there’s Emma with her new cropped, pixie hair borrowed in style from Nicole Kidman in Birth, who in turn seemed the double of Genevieve Page’s brothel madam in Belle de Jour. Emma as Belle de Jour? Maybe not, but she is certainly belle du jour.