Mopping Up The Butcher’s Floor Of Your Broken Little Hearts
After watching last year’s cack-handedly compressed Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince I wondered if the cynical marketing decision to split The Deathly Hallows into two films might pay artistic dividends as well as cold hard cash ones. To my pleasant surprise it has. Yes, it is still clogged with too many characters and minor plot cul-de-sacs but it has the time and – free of Hogwarts – the space to evolve.
My memory of JK Rowling’s novel is that it was 700 pages of wander aimlessly through a forest and 50 pages of a climactic battle at the end. My worry was that would be exactly the split of the two films. Luckily, whilst Harry, Hermione and Ron’s bickering peregrinations do take up a huge portion of Deathly Hallows Part 1, my memory was faulty and there a good few set-pieces. More importantly, it replaces Rowling’s childish prose with a tone of emotional maturity which turns the tedious squabbling that appears on the page into something approaching actual drama.
Of course, it would help if any of the three principal actors could actually act. After this many years together they certainly have some level of rapport and they have learnt to mask their limitations but still. Director David Yates makes the best of this by treating his cast as simply another prop, using his budget to conjure up tableaux in which he places them in some of the most scenic parts of the UK. Often, like a Take That concert, it resembles nothing more than a sustained advert for knitwear.
This sounds like sustained snark but I did enjoy the film. Where the books provide the reader with nothing but increasingly idiotic plotting, the adaptations have developed a rich and impressive visual language. Rowling’s novels moved through the years but they never grew up but this is exactly what the cast and the films themselves have done before our eyes. Deathly Hallows Part 1 is dark and violent and intense, it is a film you can get your teeth into and exactly the sort of blockbuster we should be making for children. It is also, for the first time, sexual.
At the beginning of the film, Ginny asks Harry to zip her up. The old ones are the best. This inevitably leads to kissing until the scene is punctured by the arrival of one of the Weasley twins. The scene is perfectly composed but unfortunately there is zero chemistry between the two actors. Daniel Radcliffe can brood but, for the Chosen One, he isn’t very charismatic. This actually works to the film’s advantage later on when Harry dances with Hermione to the slightly ironic sounds of ‘O Children’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds playing on the radio. When Harry initiates this, it is a moment ripe with sexual tension. I doubt if anyone in the audience I saw it with came within ten years of the films 12 Certificate and they were practically baying for penetrative sex on the tent floor, right then and there. Instead, Radcliffe’s immense gawkiness transforms it into an extremely touching that brings home the isolation of the protagonists. Still, the audience got what it felt it had been cheated out of: later on Ron is confronted with a CGI image of Harry and Hermoine, naked and touching each other up, that is straight out of a Zack Synder film. Good stuff.
Basically, everything the books do badly, the film does well. Conversely, everything bad about the films is because of the books. If you’ve grown up on the Harry Potter books (and millions of people have) then I can’t imagine a better realisation of their potential. Well, unless that casting session so many years ago had gone a bit differently.