Review: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” starring Daniel Radcliffe

Deathly Hallows SnapshotI open this review with a bit of a confession. When the last book in the Harry Potter series was released, I was out at midnight in my town, queued around the corner to get into Waterstones. My ex-girlfriend had introduced me to the books; prior to her suggestion, I’d been reluctant to embrace something so populist. A boy wizard indeed, had this not been done before? It seemed like it. However, due to her quiet urging, I eventually read all but the first two instalments, and enjoyed them. Not great literature perhaps, but they were entertaining. So I was relatively happy to stand in the midnight chill, waiting to file into the store. My ex went home early as she felt poorly, leaving me to my vigil.

When at last my turn came, I went inside and found that the familiar shop had been transformed: spiders’ webs, cauldrons, staff dressed as wizards and the bookshelves draped in black added to the atmosphere. I bought two copies with the childrens’ cover (no sense in hiding what it is, I thought) and went home. I brewed a pot of tea, and then my ex and I sat down and read our purchases. At about five AM, we finished more or less simultaneously. As I climbed into bed just as the dawn arrived, I realised I was satisfied. It was perhaps an all too brief good-bye, but nonetheless my appetite was satiated: I had closure in terms of both the plot and the characters, no more need have been explained.

The film version of the Deathly Hallows promises to be a much longer farewell: prior to arriving at the cinema, I already knew it had been divided into two instalments. I read a report which suggested that it could have been divided into three parts. However, time is getting on, and Daniel Radcliffe is only barely plausible as a gawky teenager, so thankfully, they kept it to two.

Once the lights dimmed and after an interimnable series of advertisements, it rapidly became obvious that this is going to be a long goodbye in another sense. Whereas this film’s predecessor had a brisk pace and a tight sense of timing, the first portion of the “Deathly Hallows” proceeds very slowly, almost tentatively, with only a few breaks in pace.

Early indications were positive: the film begins by focusing on Bill Nighy’s eyes; he was playing the role of the new Minister of Magic. A brilliant actor, the tremulous glance he gives the camera says much more than his words: he’s terribly afraid. This was followed by a breathtaking sequence in which Harry has to evade Voldemort’s henchmen to get to safety. However, shortly after this point the plot begins to drag. I couldn’t help but think of a verb known to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, i.e., one is “Jossed”: Joss Whedon, Buffy’s creator, is a gifted storyteller, but his programmes tend to get more complex as time goes on, rendering them impenetrable to newcomers. “Deathly Hallows” is like this: we see characters from previous films process through, performing their swan song, taking a bow, in cases like Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange, taking obvious pleasure in being over the top. It’s necessary to cover all the bases, but it draws our attention to how many characters have made their way through the previous films. The procession in Deathly Hallows is punctuated with excellent special effects. There are genuinely touching moments at the death of some characters: however the film is too slovenly to have the same emotional impact as its predecessor.

Worse, there are moments in which the producers seem to indulge some of the dreams of fan fiction writers: there are moments of tenderness between Harry and his friend Hermoine Granger which border on the romantic and nearly tip over, a spectacle that no doubt that left some fan fiction scribblers more than a bit damp with glee. That said, the rickety structure holds thanks to the central relationships in the film between Harry, Hermoine and Ron Weasley. The actors having grown up together on film perhaps enables them to transcend a weak production: it is the one part of the movie that really rings true. They proceed with both intuition and understanding, and the rest doesn’t really matter.

This is not to say there are not other pleasures in the film: the telling of the Tale of the Three Brothers was very effectively done through a stylised cartoon. However, it’s impossible to get away from the fact that the narrative of this film is just too overloaded: the sudden cut off point for Part 1 led me to nearly say aloud a few expletives as it was another peak of interest, but this was followed by a sense of relief that I wouldn’t have to wait any longer to use the facilities. Those who wish to see this film should not do so accompanied by a large drink: even a medium sized one is a challenge.

After I stepped out of the cinema into a bitter November afternoon, I saw that there was a large crowd of parents and children waiting to get in. They looked eager, fresh faced and bright-eyed in anticipation of what they were about to see. In contrast, there wasn’t much chatter among those who were leaving. We are saying good bye to these characters, a slow, sometimes tedious, sometimes painful farewell. What makes means of departure bearable are the occasional smiles, the fleeting charm, the moments which catch the breath. There will be closure and no doubt some satisfaction: but afterwards, there will probably also be a big sigh of relief.

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