This final film, the second half of the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is the best film of the series by far – maybe even (and believe me, I don’t say this lightly) one of the best films of 2011. It is a triumph of cinematic talent, magnificent acting and serves as a memorable end to the series which started almost ten years ago. Since then, directors have changed and the tone has shifted to accommodate the increasing darkness of the story, consistent with the books. Chris Columbus made a sufficient director for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but I hate to think what he would have done with this final effort. It would probably have been set to a strict ‘family movie’ structure and the feel of the whole things would be closer to Toy Story than the powerful energy David Yates has injected into the films.
Before Potter, Yates was more of a TV director. He showed signs of brilliance when directing dramas such as State of Play and Sex Traffic, but never before did he manage to move an audience on such a grand, epic scale. This may well be his masterpiece.
I wasn’t a massive fan of the first instalment of the Deathly Hallows two-parter. It dragged, and relied too much on the tensions between Harry, Ron and Hermione while they went on an extended and very bleak camping tour around Britain, attempting to destroy the many parts of evil wizard Voldemort’s soul. In Part 2, The Dark Lord is planning an attack on Hogwarts School, and our favourite trio return to the place of their education to defend its corridors and the students it houses. But things have changed at Hogwarts since they have been away. Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, perhaps giving the performance of his career) has taken up the post of headmaster, and is the polar opposite of the friendly Dumbledore. When we first see the school under his command it is in an affecting early scene where he pensively surveys the pupils marching like soldiers in the Dementor-surrounded courtyard. This haunting glimpse of what the school has become sets the tone for the upcoming ‘battle of Hogwarts’ – bleak, unforgiving and incredibly moving.
There is the usual nagging problem, or question, that the series has almost adopted as its trademark – will people understand the complexities of the plot if they haven’t read J.K. Rowling’s novels? The answer is: probably not. But for once I think we can lay aside that problem. It is wise to recognise it as a fault, but in this instance I do not believe the filmmakers could have realistically made the film easier to understand for non-Potter-readers without the plot losing a degree of its profundity.
Alexandre Desplat’s superbly evocative score is an intricate work of great beauty. For me it was the saving grace of the previous film, and here plays a large part in increasing the breathless tension of the battle scenes while making the more unsettling moments all the more tangible. However, the most effective use of music is the re-using and reworking of the classic themes composed by John Williams, as well as an arresting new arrangement of the track ‘Dumbledore’s Farewell’, originally composed by Nicholas Hooper for the sixth film.
One must also take a moment, whilst being impressed by big bangs and action set-pieces, to admire the incredible array of British acting talent this film offers. The wonderful Maggie Smith returns as Professor McGonagall, who was a notable absence from Deathly Hallows Part 1. Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort is, in my opinion, worthy of an Oscar nomination – a performance that captures evil on a level that has not been seen since Heath Ledger took up the role of The Joker inThe Dark Knight. The central three, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, may have had their shaky moments in the past but have now grown into fine young actors, although my personal favourite will always be Watson as the practical-minded Hermione.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 won’t satisfy everyone. But I expect – and hope – the majority of its audiences across the globe will cherish it as a near-perfect gem of blockbusting entertainment. Cynics may raise their eye-brows at the dedication of some of its fans (camping outside all night to be the first to see it may not be everyone’s idea of fun), but in the end that level of intense devotion is at the heart of the film. It is a jaw-dropping cinematic experience, and a superb closing film to a series that will define a generation. I absolutely loved it.
Good: A brilliant end to a wondrous, magical saga. Many tears will be shed.
Bad: Those who haven’t hungrily consumed Rowling’s novels may be a little perplexed at times.