Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – review
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
- Production year: 2010
- Countries: Rest of the world, UK
- Cert (UK): 12A
- Runtime: 146 mins
- Directors: David Yates
- Cast: Alan Rickman, Dame Maggie Smith, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton
But it has to be said that now there are weird and, for me, rather unexpected signs of life. Simply by not being set in Hogwarts, this movie feels looser, freer. Just by not imposing on the viewer the endless routine of coming back for a new term, witnessing those cute moving portraits in the wood panelling and encountering one new British character actor in the gallery of familiar British character actors on the teaching staff – all of which had become a tiring tradition in the opening 20 minutes of a Harry Potter film – this one can breathe more easily. It saves it, just a little, from the feeling of deja vu.
DH1, as no one with the smallest self-respect is calling it, is still weighed down with the usual fidelity to the fanbase. There are some impenetrable plot quirks, and it carries the usual mythical baggage, but more nimbly than usual. As a non-fan, I found myself carrying out a thought experiment: what if you had never seen any of the previous films and knew little or nothing about them? Might you not be intrigued by the bizarre story of three teenagers, precariously possessed of magical powers, suddenly disappearing and reappearing in different landscapes, who are making a desperate attempt at survival, and who are anxiously coming to terms with the status rivalry and sexual tension between them? The answer is yes, sort of.
The film begins with an entertaining “conference of evil” chaired by the nasally-challenged Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), discussing how and where to snatch our hero, in which Voldemort’s scornful gaze alights on the uneasy Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), depriving him of his wand, making this implement’s Freudian implications more obvious than ever: later Hermione (Emma Watson) damages Harry’s and he crossly asks to use hers. Voldemort does everything but press a Dr Evil-style button for Lucius to fall through an open trapdoor.
Potter, played by Daniel Radcliffe – once as moon-faced and round as his specs, now rangy and wiry – must make what amounts to an escape across open country, accompanied by Hermione and Ron (Rupert Grint). Watson’s Hermione is still very girlish and solemn, but Grint’s Ron now looks adult, slightly grizzled and bucolic. Grint’s very grownup air of resignation to his second-in-command status is interesting. It is a long way from the silly face he was always having to pull in the first film.
Almost devoid of allies and weapons, the trio now have to destroy the Horcruxes, which enforce Voldemort’s terrible power, and they must uncover the secret of the Deathly Hallows, a term the audience must wait until the end of the film to understand. Looking up “hallow” as a noun in the dictionary won’t help.
Just as before, there is a good 90-minute story visible inside this highly decorated circus elephant of a film. An experimental, low-budget version of Harry Potter (and what unthinkable commercial heresy that would be) might feature only Harry, Ron and Hermione roaming in various Beckettian wildernesses, seedy urban bars and deserted Orwellian ministerial corridors, arguing ceaselessly among themselves. And yet it is only when these three are on their own that this film comes to life: especially in the eerie Forest of Dean or a gloomy Shaftesbury Avenue cafe in central London where they have a magic-wand shootout with two assassins.
The most striking moment comes when Ron is tormented by a paranoid, jealous fantasy of Hermione’s passionate desire for Harry. It is quite a gamey scene. Something human and real is happening there, a sense of coming to the dramatic point, at last. Does Ron suspect in his heart that Hermione would prefer to play something other than Quidditch?
Well, after Lord of the Rings, we’re used to the epic that ends over and over again, and when this series finally does, at the end of the next film, some retrospective shape and meaning may be conferred on all that has gone before. I have become resigned to the Harry Potter movies having only as much interest and power as one of the rides in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park. They will be efficiently made, interesting-looking entertainment. Anything more would be magic.
• This article was amended on 18 November, when New Forest was corrected to Forest of Dean