Directed by David Yates, with Daniel Radcliffe. England, 2011.
A fitting conclusion?
Having been gripped by the last book in the series but disappointed by some of the films (especially The Half-Blood Prince) in which some of the crucial plot lines were missed, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the final installment. The film picks up just where the previous one ended, with Harry burying Dobby the elf who gave his life to protect the young wizard. The search for the remaining horcruxes (fragments of Lord Voldemort’s soul which render him immortal) continues with Harry, Hermione and Ron having to put their trust in a distinctly dubious goblin to help them break into Gringotts, the Goblin Bank. After finding a horcrux in one of the vaults and narrowly escaping capture the story leads inextricably back to the Hogwarts school of magic to find the remaining three horcruxes and the final climactic battle and confrontation between Harry and Voldemort.
This time, David Yates the director has, with one major exception, kept most of the main narrative threads of the book and widened some of the action sequences into a grander scale that captures the terrible ferocity and darkness of Voldemort’s army,albeit at the cost of making Voldemort less evil and desperate than he is portrayed in the books. In the book, the climactic encounter between Harry and Voldemort as they circle each other in the Great Hall was framed by a verbal exchange that JK Rowling used cleverly to explain one of the main plotlines – who is the rightful owner of the Elder Wand (the most powerful wand that Voldmort has stolen)? The film version dispenses with this final explanatory dialogue which is a pity.
Whilst the film moves along at a terrific pace, there is still some humour, most memorably from Dame Maggie Smith as Professor McGonogall, who having activated an army of giant stone knights to defend the school mutters “I’ve always wanted to do that”. The lead characters, who have visibly grown up on cinema screens over the last 10 years, have also grown as actors. For me though, Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape acts everyone else off the screen. And here, the true Snape is finally revealed. The scenes where a dying Snape gives Harry his most cherished memories whilst conveying in a few seconds a lifetime of unrequited love and bravery are extraordinary. There are other poignant moments – especially when Harry voluntarily goes to meet Voldmort in the Forbidden Forest and finally learns the secret of the Resurrection Stone, meeting his mother, father and Uncle who lost their lives protecting him.
So overall a fitting finale. But it made me want to read the book again to appreciate a master story teller who can convey different layers of meaning so clearly.
Another Point of View
I struggle to begin with something positive. In fact, there are a few positive things that can be said, and one is that Radcliffe gives his best performance at the end.
The culmination of the Harry Potter saga has three distinct climaxes. The first of the three is “At the close”, where he finally emerges as the mythical warrior. Fate has cast him in that role, and he truly recognises that he has to fulfil it, and goes forth into the forest to face the opposing force.
There is also one beautiful bit of magic- the casting of the defensive spell all around Hogwarts by the teachers. We see a mysterious luminescent wave quietly descend from above to envelope the whole school. Meaningful, and beautiful.
BUT! So many buts! David Yates has made a sorry mess of the films he has directed. Given that only those who have read the books can make any sense of the story, why reduce the mystery to make the plot more comprehensible? Snape’s true role is made obvious by stating, almost at the beginning of this film, that it was he who put the fake sword in Bellatrix’s vault at Gringotts, thereby destroying the shock and sorrow we experience when Harry- who has always hated Snape and never believed that he had rejected Voldemort- sees Snape’s memories in the Pensieve. It is the second climax, in fact it is the emotional climax of the whole story. Snape! Have we not hated and distrusted him, just as Harry did? Now we discover what a selfless and courageous life he has led. It is an extraordinary revelation, and deeply moving. But in the film, his memories are quickly glossed over, we are not given time to feel with him his anguish, his unrequited love, his tormenting jealousy.
The films never took Voldemort seriously. At the beginning of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, the scene in what we later realise is the Riddle house, when Voldemort and Nagini first appear, should be full of ominous menace. Similarly at the end of that film, in the dark forest, when the death-eaters apparate one by one at Voldemort’s command…… we should be truly frightened for all the living. He has come back! But Voldemort is too obviously Ralph Fiennes minus nose, rather like a comic in a pantomine pretending to be evil.
The greatest absurdity of all is to change the final duel, the third and final climax, which in the book is seen by all, and is preceded by Neville suddenly pulling the sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat to slay Nagini…… and making it like an ordinary fight on the battlements. All the survivors of the battle of Hogwarts and the death-eaters need to hear the taunt “All your Horcruxes are destroyed!”, all of them need to witness the elder wand spinning out of Voldemort’s hand.
I hope it will lead many to read the true story. Extraordinary how in each book new concepts and experiences are introduced- which however, we realise, were already there, hidden. In the penultimate book, Horcruxes; in the final one, the Deathly Hallows. Just as in “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, the pursuit of power, the Elder Wand, leads to death; the ability to bring the dead back to an illusory life, leads to death also; only the ability to be invisible at crucial moments is really useful. What remains? What can last?
Rowling had the courage to reassert: it is love.