Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) Re-watch Review

Chamber of Secrets

With only another day to wait until the three Pottermore e-books are released, a little over two months until the Fantastic Beasts film, and just three months until I finally see Cursed Child, I’m continuing my Harry Potter warm up by re-watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets..

Like its predecessor, Chamber of Secrets is directed by Chris Columbus and with the screenplay written by Steve Kloves. In the film, Harry Potter, now twelve, returns to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, after several mishaps and having to be rescued by his best friend, Ron. Apart from a useless Defence teacher and an obsessive fanboy, Harry’s second year looks to be much the same as his first right up until he finds the caretaker’s cat paralysed and writing from the “Heir of Slytherin” on the wall. Harry accidentally reveals himself to be able to speak to snakes, leading the rest of the school to think that he is responsible for the attacks that follow. When Hermione, Harry’s other best friend, is paralysed and Ron’s sister, Ginny, is taken, the two boys take it upon themselves to save the day once again. After all, it’s not like it could be Voldemort again, right?

To be honest, much of what I could say about this film would be very similar to what I wrote about Philosopher’s Stone. It remains a close translation of the books, merely streamlined in places for timing, though there is at least one scene added for cinematic purposes (looking at you flying car vs. Hogwarts Express!). Watching the Chamber of Secrets film is still like stepping into one of JK Rowling’s books and pretty much everything about the direction remains the same, from the languid pace for much of the film to the obsessive fidelity to the source material. So, instead of going over the usual things (pacing, structure, fidelity), I’m going to focus in on new additions to the cast and the little details that you, like me, might have missed on previous watches.

The casting in Chamber of Secrets is still absolutely on point. There are a few new additions and they are all brilliantly cast. At first I was going to say that Julie Walters as Molly Weasley was the best of the film but then I re-watched it and just couldn’t decide. Julie Walters IS Molly Weasley. But Mark Williams as Arthur Weasley is also utter perfection – when he asks Harry the function of a rubber duck… in a word, amazing. Jason Isaacs’ Lucius Malfoy is the perfect blend of snobbery with a slightly dangerous edge and he works so well with Tom Felton’s Draco Malfoy. And Kenneth Branagh’s Professor Lockhart deserves some sort of investigation because at least half of me thinks he may actually BE Lockhart.

Ginny Weasley, because of her importance in the plot of this film and her future role in Harry’s life, is another new character that deserves some space on her her own (especially since she is alone for most of the Chamber of Secrets). Film Ginny is often lambasted by fans of the books and, in the later adaptations, this isn’t unwarranted. Film Ginny is kind of shoved in when needed, doesn’t really have a personality, and is just there to be Harry’s surprise love interest (when they don’t waste time fanboying over the idea of Harry and Hermione being together). Book Ginny is funny and sarcastic, accomplished in her own right, and has a slow-building relationship with Harry that fits his personality. Film Ginny is sacrificed for Hollywood formulas and pacing. In this Chamber of Secrets, however, you do get to see that this was most likely down to the writing and direction of the later films and not necessarily due to any failings in the actress. Bonnie Wright’s Ginny in this film is the shy little girl that you find in the source material, fresh into Hogwarts, and staying in the background for most of the film, just like she does in the books. Book Harry doesn’t pay attention to her until the end and the obsessively adapted film, for the most part, does the same. You do get flashes of the Ginny she is supposed to grow up to be though – she stands up to Malfoy, an older, pureblooded boy, in one of her first scenes and doesn’t back down – hinting towards the badass she should be.

Chamber of Secrets Ginny.png

So, spoiler paragraph, in Chamber of Secrets, Ginny is secretly the puppet of the Heir of Slytherin. She is possessed by a shadow of Tom Riddle, the young Lord Voldemort, through a diary sneaked into her cauldron by Lucius Malfoy. The first time I read the books (even having read the third before the second), this came out of the blue and it seems much the same in the film. On this re-watching, I decided that I would look out for all the times that Bonnie Wright’s Ginny appears and see if there were any hints given. It’s very subtle but there are touches. She is isolated from the first moment at Hogwarts, as in we can see her sitting with no one near her during the Howler scene. This could be a directorial choice – it makes it easier to see her – but it could also be hint at the beginnings of her problems. It would undoubtedly be easier for Tom Riddle to have her trust if she has no one else. She is also alone in the study hall scene, writing with an orange quill and looking vaguely pissed off (seemingly at Harry in the context of the film, but what if that’s not the case?). She is that last person Harry looks at before he finds another petrified student. Alone again after McGonagall announces some new rules in light of the recent events, looking rather tired/tearful and rather out of it, sitting in a corner of the common room. That is her last scene before she is taken to the Chamber of Secrets to die/saved by Harry.

For all that the scenes Ginny appears in suggest, the ones that she is missing from also communicate a lot. Ginny is noticeably unseen/absent from the crowd scene that happens following a petrification, when all the other significant characters get at least a reaction shot. Maybe Bonnie Wright had a cold that day but it just fits so nicely as a very subtle hint that she is apart from the crowd. In fact, Ginny is rather conspicuously absent from most scenes that you would think she should at least briefly be seen. I couldn’t find her at the Quidditch match even though she, as a character, is supposed to be a huge fan. She also wasn’t at the Duelling Club. You could argue that this was down to the age of the actress but Hugh Mitchell, who plays Colin Creevey, must be a similar age and appears in pretty much every crowd scene and several others besides. For such an important character in the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny Weasley is missing for rather a lot of the time. Though subtle, I think that this was an excellent decision by the director as it allows the audience to forget about her, much as the other characters have, leaving her to Tom Riddle’s clutches.

I do have one negative that conflicts with a point I made when I wrote about the Philosopher’s Stone film. There are some moments in Chamber of Secrets where the exposition is not as well integrated as it could be – unlike in the first film where exposition was usually shown or, if told, was communicated by a character that made sense. This film just doesn’t do this as well and some moments just feel rather jarring because of it. Like when the list s of books for Hogwarts arrives at the Weasley’s and it is Fred (or George) who points out how expensive they will be, placing excessive emphasis on the family’s lack of wealth. As if we, the audience, hadn’t picked it up by the home-y surrounds and Ron’s comment about it not being much. This babying of the audience continues in bursts throughout the film – from the constant shots of the spiders running away to Hermione finding it necessary to point out that the blood-like liquid on the wall is, in fact, blood. As I said before, there are only a few moments where the exposition is so in your face but… I just expect better after the skillful handling of it in the first film by both screenwriter and director.

Also, another tiny niggle is that Neville Longbottom faints in Herbology and the Professor makes some comment that implies that Neville is just as useless at Herbology as he is in other classes. This is utterly wrong. Neville excels at Herbology – it’s his only real success. It irks me that he was sacrificed for comedic relief but that’s probably the Potter purest in me, not the writer.

As a fan of Harry Potter, Chamber of Secrets is one of my favourite of the film adaptations because of how true it continues to be to the books. The casting and the setting, as ever, make the film. I also enjoy the subtleties of the direction when it comes to Bonnie Wright’s Ginny as it gives hints to her character and the mystery she hides, but only if you’re looking for it. It is unfortunate that the writing, at times, treats the audience like an idiot and outright states what is being shown on several occasions. Frustrating though it is, I still enjoy the film as the last of the obsessive-fan adaptations.

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