Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (David Yates, 2010)


Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley). Screenplay by Steve Kloves. Directed by David Yates. Rating: 12A. Running time: 146 minutes.

It’s probably true of every film I watch that nothing I say here will change anything, but for this one especially, that fact feels worthy of being explicitly recognised. If you haven’t already seen The Deathly Hallows, you’ll no doubt be booked in for one of Odeon’s 20 screenings a day over the next few weeks, and why not. This is the franchise we’ve grown up with, having watched Warner Bros repeat the perfectly fine formula of churning out a Potter film almost every summer for the past decade. Time after time we’ve watched our favourite slowly-ageing trio clown around delightfully at Hogwarts for a year – or, in cinema terms, two hours – before fighting off the magical world’s equivalent of Hitler towards the end, as he attempts world-domination once again. The difference with the Deathly Hallows is – or perhaps should have been – that Hogwarts is no longer present as a pretty backdrop to hang a family film upon. The aura of Voldemort was always present, haunting the previous films, but it wasn’t until this final episode came along that our characters were set the task of doing nothing but directly confronting evil; no time is available for trivial schoolwork.

And yet, even now – even though the setting is the green of the frosty British countryside, as Harry, Ron and Hermione go camping on a wild-goose chase after parts of Voldemort’s soul – even now Yates insists on not giving us brutally frank and frightful drama. Even now, the quest to overcome evil is polluted with a bizarrely overemphasised, petty romantic subplot full of sexual tension between the trio. Even now, the focus is entirely upon humour, as if we were back in Harry’s first year playing Quidditch rather than fearing for his life.

The Deathly Hallows takes the prophetic struggle laid out before Harry and turns it into what is predominantly a stand-up comedy. For sure, there are some apt occasions for laughter, but when being driven senile by near-isolation and having to wear a part of Lord Voldemort’s soul around their neck on a daily basis, I imagine the first thing Hermione would want from Harry was a hug and moment of shared understanding, given the last seven years they have been through together. She certainly would not break into laughter at the prospect of a god-damn dance to the song that happened to be on the radio at that moment in time. And yet the latter is precisely what we are lead to believe, in the most pathetic of musical sequences.

This might be excessively harsh, but I don’t think severe criticism is entirely unwarranted. What was exciting about the prospect of this final film (or films, now they decided on squeezing an extra $1bn out of us), was the fact it would have to be different from the others, and depart from the conventional narrative structure and be much more bloody grim if it were to reflect the spirit of the novel. And yet that dread of the future and fear of what’s around the corner is definitely peculiarly lacking.

I’m not denying that any of this is fun. At times, it is a hell of a lot of fun, like all the other instalments of the series. The house elves, Kreacher and Dobby, provide suitably cute and clumsy entertainment, and sequences like the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic rightly do not fail to force a smile or two. But something feels odd about all of this, given the feelings at these moments are desperately replicated throughout. It’s even surprising how you realise, watching Hermione sulk in the tent for the umpteenth time, just how much the film drags towards its middle, and I didn’t think it was possible for these films to achieve that, given how ingrained the characters and concepts and stories are in our consciousness by now – it’s very hard to make them ever not thoroughly watchable.

If I remember the novel correctly, then Part I has left us at a point in which most of the wilderness scenes are over, and now the action begins insofar as the Gringotts break-in is to come followed by the extended battle of Hogwarts. In a sense, then, the vices of the first half are behind, and it’s hard to see how they’ll crop up again. As students are dying at school and the climax of the series gets closer, it’s hard to see how the tension will ever drop and the humour will ever creep in again. But then I expected the same for the first part of The Deathly Hallows, and Yates has still managed to massacre it. I’d be optimistic, if only I could.

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