Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
There’s a telling scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 when Ron (the ginger one) is given a tiny magical device which can steal light. It’s a fairly minor moment and in no way a plot spoiler but you can’t help feeling that the director and his head of photography were given one as well.
They’ve managed to produce a film so lacking in illumination and colour, you fear that when it comes to Part 2 (the last book has been made into two films, the latter to be released next year in July) it will be filmed entirely in black and white.
Not that I’m complaining. I like dark.
These are the darkest of the Potter stories, both in plot and emotional content. Harry is all grown up now and while he’s never really had an easy ride in life, his struggle with his arch-enemy, Lord Voldemort, is rushing towards its final confrontation.
At the end of the last film Potter discovered the secret to Voldemort’s apparent immortality. Voldemort has fractured his soul into numerous pieces, storing each piece inside an object of value to him called a Horcrux. Until all these Horcruxes are destroyed he cannot be completely killed.
With Voldemort’s agents infiltrating all aspects of life in an attempt to catch Potter, the three friends, Harry, Ron and Hermione decide it’s best to skip going to Hogwarts School and instead spend their time finding and annihilating the hidden Horcruxes.
This is the first sign of an altogether different tale. Gone are the familiar elements which have been such a comfort to fans of the previous movies. Potter’s family have been evacuated from his little suburban security zone, Privet Drive and with Hogwarts off the table, gone is the usual mix of boarding school shenanigans and term-time intrigue. Life cannot go on as normal, not when there is a war on.
And so Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows is a story in a very classic mode – a band of heroes on a dangerous quest. In this case it’s a trio of arguing teenage magicians who can move about the countryside at will.
Depending on your tolerance for beautiful landscapes and brooding teenagers, you may find the middle part of the film overly long. I didn’t mind it. The accusation levelled against many film adaptations is how often they condense or omit relevant scenes, so it is refreshing to see such moments left in the screenplay.
This is, after all, a movie aimed at the fans. If you had no prior knowledge of the Potter back story this would be a thoroughly confusing two-and-a-half hours.
In the past my problem with JK Rowling’s characters has always been that it’s pretty clear who the good guys and who the bad guys are. Just look at their names. The bad ones always have unpleasant names like Grimes Kidneyblade or Murder McBaddie, so I’ve never understood why anyone is surprised when they reveal their dastardly intent.
While there is still a little of that here, it seems Rowling is using our preconceptions against us. Shades of grey are starting to creep into more than just the colour palette. As Harry is growing up his world his becoming less black and white.
Yet Rowling is always ultimately very clear about the concept of evil. In her world of Harry Potter it is very real. It’s more than just bad choices; it’s a force which is brutally genuine. Voldemort is a slithering source of hatred and rage. He is the great liar and accuser who is hell-bent on spreading dissension while wallowing in the fear he creates. He provides the source for many of Harry and his friend’s inner divisions – their odyssey is constantly fraught with temptations and terror.
Would that it were that easy in real life to indentify all evil. It’s easy to look down on burglars but who isn’t tempted to leave something off a tax form or overinflate an insurance claim? Granted, not all choices are that clear but that is why asking those questions and having friends who can hold you accountable are so vital to living an ethical and moral life. And Rowling’s trio of heroes do just that in the face of some rather difficult decisions.
You’ll have to wait for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to find out whether they find all the Horcruxes and what happens to Voldemort, but it’s safe to say that these are no longer kids’ movies.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is on general release, certificate 12A