Tuesday 12 July

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

By Alan Hindle 5:56 PM

(Image above shows the critics gathering for preview screening of HP7Pt2)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (HP7Pt2) picks up, obviously, where the the last film left off, with Harry, Hermione and Ron chasing after and destroying horcruxes into which He Who Must Not Be Named has invested chunks of his soul. Whereas the first Deathly Hallows seemed a sort of satire on camping holidays in the UK, the second is a relentless battle against the forces of good and evil, wherein characters loved and hated are dealt their final fates.

Harry Potter, the biggest franchise in book and film history, is finally done and fairy dusted. Millions more pounds, perhaps billions, are still to be made in book sales, boxed DVD sets, amusement park tickets and assorted accessories such as video games, commentaries and spin-offs. Yet the bulk of the financial adventure is over. HP7Pt2, incidentally, is also the chemical formula for heffalump tears, a crucial ingredient in a Potion of Sentimental Commercialism.

Contrary to what many pundits seem to think, however, the cultural significance of Harry Potter is only just beginning. Critics may sniff at JK Rowling’s creation, but the kids who love it are going to be reading the books to their kids long after the professional naysayers are dead and patrolling Azkaban. Playground word-of-mouth, not media coverage, propelled early sales of Harry Potter into the stratosphere. Children don’t tend to pay much attention to literary reviews, and anybody who knows anything about the reading habits of kids knows that it wasn’t parents foisting “must reads” on their little darlings that made Rowling’s boy wizard such a publishing phenomenon.

Painted in a palette ranging from iron to lead, without a single scrap of Weasley knitwear to jumper-start the colour scheme, and lit only by gloomy skies and bursts from deadly wands, Hallows actually contain more humour than any of the films since Chamber of Secrets. Apparently the film makers finally realised the morbid themes of death and regret might be better offset by playing up the story’s more lighthearted, entertaining aspects. If all the films had been as enjoyable and thrilling as this one they might have made twice as much money and half as many grumpy enemies in the press.

In the octology’s conclusion Harry finally stops whining and takes destiny on the jutting chin of his square head. Neville finds a spine, Hermione and Ron get to make out, the late Dumbledore is revealed as being, above all, a ruthless tactician, and Snape is, well, the coolest Emo wizard ever. (I’ve long had a theory that Harry is actually the product of a one-night adulterous fling between the surly Potions professor and lily-white Lily Potter in the basement of the Leaky Cauldron Pub. I don’t care how low the alcohol content is, you serve enough butter beer and there’s going to be unicorn action going on downstairs.) Voldemort, however, is somewhat diminished as a bogeyman by having almost as much screen time as Harry. And frankly, Potter is beginning to become the scarier-looking of the two.

While the focus is obviously placed on our three main heroes, Deathly Hallows Part 2 at last sees minor characters, played by fantastic actors, flexing their magical muscles. While short, these scenes are often the punchiest, most energised moments in the film. Matthew Lewis as the other prophesied boy wizard, Neville Longbottom, carries several key moments on his shrugging shoulders. Maggie Smith is given a chance at last to have some real fun while Julia Walters kicks Slytherin ass and unleashes the nearest thing to a wobble in the franchise’s 12 certificate. (As yet another aside I think the film is unfair to Slytherin, the dorm of the school dedicated to, yes, future City Bankers, but also to the weird, broken Goth kids who don’t even fit into the wizarding world. For centuries they’ve been good enough for their parents to pay the school’s fees, but at the first sign of trouble- one girl says they should turn Harry over to the Deatheaters to spare everybody else. Fairly practical thinking, it seems to me- and they are evicted by McGonagall! Shameful. Send owls to your local MP. )

Most of the actors are, as usual for Harry Potter films, utterly wasted. Sure, Robbie Coltrane filled the screen through much of the first two films, and Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix LeStrange was elevated in Half Blood Prince and HP7Pt2 to become one of the all time great screen villains. But to be all but ignored for the grand finale seems cruel. Here LeStrange serves mostly to reveal how cool Mrs. Weasley can be when you let her out of the kitchen. Most of the film is a connect the plot points exercise for fans of the books. Having said that, and keeping in mind I am actually a big fan of both the books and movies (How dare he call himself a film critic! For a start he calls them ‘movies’!) I feel I can say this is easily the best of the series, even above Prisoner of Azkaban, and a fitting conclusion to a British mythology equal in eventual cultural impact to (wait for it) Lord of the Rings. There. I said it. Go writhe in your cringing place if you disagree. Meanwhile, I’ll be in that back room of the Leaky Cauldron with a barrel of butterbeer, a stack of slash zines and hopes the Grey Lady of Hogwarts will one day comes to her senses.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opens pretty much everywhere 15 July. 12A certificate.

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