Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part I
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Imelda Stanton, Ralph Finnes, Robbie Coltrane & Peter Mullan.
By Alex Towers
Any critical analysis of the Harry Potter films depends entirely upon whether or not you have read the books. To the layman, the franchise must be impenetrable- a garbled mess of labyrinthine plot and ostentatious special effects. But, to the devoted Potterhead, the films represent their beloved books coming to a magical fruition of spellbinding extension of Rowling’s stories. Unfortunately I am neither. Like nearly every other person of my age and social-economic background I raptly lapped up the Harry Potter books and there parables of middle-classness. But I never cared much for the films. Now I’m not some diehard puritan who feels the smallest alteration the adapted screenplay makes is sacrilege, instead I just never felt the films did the job. The first outings for the franchise were woeful and then Alfonso Cuarón came along with Gary Oldman for the third one and made a good- but by no means great- adaptation. The forth one was unmemorable save only for Jarvis Cocker’s cameo and I think I skipped the fifth one. I was surprised by the relative quality of the sixth film, which I suppose is why I had a higher expectation for the Deathly Hallows. It’s not that the franchise is terrible; instead it’s just surprising, given its astronomical success, that the films themselves are so middle-of-the-road.
Deathly Hallows Part 1 (the decision to split the final film into two will no doubt have earned some executive a hefty bonus) picks up with Harry, Ron and Hermione venturing off into the dark unknown outside of Hogwarts to find bits of the evil Lord Voldermort’s soul to destroy. Eschewing family, friends and their education the trio spend the film travelling around Britain’s dreariest spots (including, in curiously Beckettian development: under a bridge) while Voldermort tightens his grip upon the wizarding world. And that’s really it. While the other films at least had a beginning, middle and end, the decision to split this one up means were left without any clear story. Instead director David Yates presents a series of vignettes rather than linear plot: The trio sneak into the Ministry of Magic, Ron and Harry fight over Hermione, Harry visits his parents graves etc. Additionally it seems remarkable to me that anyone who hasn’t seen or read the previous installments would ever be able to follow what was happening.
But where the film really falls down is its cast. The Harry Potter films have long attracted some of the best in acting talent including Richard Harris, John Hurt and Michael Gambon. But there crucial flaw is that no matter how many talented older actors are cast, the films still revolve almost entirely around the three leads. Radcliffe may look the part, but he has never been able to do anything other than recite his lines and look sullen. Watson, though more talented, has too many emotional scenes hefted on to her here, and only manages about half of them. Rupert Grint is probably the best of three, but given he’s reduced to one-liners and funny faces, doesn’t get much opportunity to show it.
Which is a pity considering the sturdy supporting cast. Helena Bonham Carter channels an over-the-top Amy Winehouse as Bellatrix Lestrange, Bill Nighy brings some pathos to the new Minister of Magic despite his brief appearance and best of all is a surprisingly sinister Peter Mullan as the sneering, blonde Nazi-with-a-Scottish-accent Yaxley. There are plenty of other actors of note in the cast, but the film barely gives you time to recognise any of them. Another worrying note comes with Rhys Ifans performance where he adopts an Irish brogue- adding to the fact that all the Irish characters in these films (Seamus Finnegan, Luna Lovegood, Xenophilius Lovegood) are all backwards, spaced out eejits.
But once again the supporting cast isn’t enough to save this Harry Potter outing. The plodding storyline and weak central performances, added to Yates’s decision to saturate everything in green and black means that while the other films were at least pretty and full of effects, this one remains a dour, bleak affair. The film has already broken box-office records however, presumably as will Part 2 in July. But once again we’re left with another disappointing adaptation of a Harry Potter novel- one that manages to be impenetrable to those who haven’t read the source and disappointing to those who have.
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Trailer