Just a little bit longer until Fantastic Beasts, so I’m continuing my Potter re-watch cycle and the end is near! I have reached the penultimate film, covering the majority of the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One.
David Yates and Steve Kloves combining once again, Deathly Hallows Part One follows Harry as he chooses not to attend his final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Accompanied by his best friends, Ron and Hermione, he goes on a quest set by his late headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, trying to find the items that will help him defeat the dark lord Voldemort. Meanwhile, the rest of the wizarding world struggles under the reign of the dark wizard.
Though it is an entertaining film, the biggest problem with Deathly Hallows Part One is that it is definitely not a film you can pick up without knowing anything about the Potter world. There’s no explanation of who is who – the Dursley’s are shown leaving with no introduction and thus no care, Madeye is introduced and killed with no understanding of who he was, Dumbledore’s will is read but who cares when they don’t know who he is? There just isn’t enough explanation for an unfamiliar audience to cope.
Another problem is probably to be expected in a divided film. Pacing. It feels like this is a common problem in book-to-film adaptations so I can’t be too offended, but the divided parts of Deathly Hallows definitely struggle with pacing because of the split. This first part has so much crammed into it but it stops and starts a lot because it’s trying to show the lulls in their quest alongside every single bit of action. Another problem common to adaptations is the fact that they throw in hints of deleted storylines, cut other bits that might have been useful information, and then waxes lyrical with other bits. It’s all very distracting. The tale of the three brothers, for example. Le sigh. It’s beautifully animated and well narrated by Emma Watson but… I kind of feel like it throws the film both stylistically and in pacing. Though it is integral to the source material, I feel like it could have been streamlined in the film given that it throws the more Hollywood-esque narrative structure off.
There are some great things, however, in Deathly Hallows Part One. The mirroring of this film with those that have come previously is just beautiful – I imagine it is probably present in the books also but I notice it far more in the films. The Dursleys loading up their car to go resembles the scene when the family were getting in the car to go to the zoo in Philosopher’s Stone. Hagrid taking Harry from Privet Drive is, as he points out, very like Harry’s beginning. And Dobby’s ending. That is the most obvious one. His final lines are so close to his lines from Chamber of Secrets it’s unreal. I especially love that he got to repeat the line about not wanting to kill – only maim or seriously injure – to Bellatrix Lestrange. It just tickles me.
Deathly Hallows has some good moments for the canon ships. Harry and Ginny have a bit of a pash (though, like much of this film’s emotional content, still lacks the intensity of the books). That’s about it for that relationship though – I suppose it would take a really talented scriptwriter to show Harry’s continued thoughts about her, the longing looks at the Marauder’s Map to see where she is, maybe Harry looking at a photo or two… The Ron/Hermione ship also gets some good moments, with lots of cute moments between the two, some light teasing, all the things you love. But the pervasive Harry/Hermione shipping remains with regular looks and the general positioning of the actors. The dance scene, a regular bone of contention for those who have noticed the films’ propensity for creating romantic moments for Harry and Hermione, actually doesn’t irk me as much on this re-watch as it has in the past. The middle part where they are just playing about, being stupid, Harry often taking the girl role, because it truly does come off as two friends trying to get in some levity. But the beginning and end of that scene has so much intimate eye contact and slow dancing… So many unnecessary romantic undertones!
The strength of the trio in general is rather strained in Deathly Hallows, which is fitting within the narrative I suppose. There are some great moments but the casual joy from Half-Blood Prince is gone. Harry, Hermione, and Ron don’t seem to move with any sort of unity, instead usually being two and then one left out. This works in the second act, as it builds up the fall out between Ron and Harry, but it feels out of place in the beginning because it makes you wonder why there is such an abrupt change from the unity of the last film. Also, for anyone new to the series, it’ll raise questions as to why they are even trying to be together when they have such a badly functioning relationship. There are some successes however! Ron actually delivers some significant information! He gives significant information that is fitting with his character and is genuinely helpful to the audience/story progression. I feel like that’s the first time in at least three films! I also appreciate that he and Harry call each other out at their weaker moments – Ron points out the faults in Harry’s plan to run away alone and then Harry prompts Ron to destroy the horcrux because of how it affects him. It is a good portrayal of one of the quieter aspects of their friendship (quickly followed by another good moment where Harry protects Ron from Hermione’s wrath). And Hermione is not given all the knowledge in the world and her panicked irrationality flares on several occasions – she is shown to be fallible for the first time in ages. It’s about time!
DanRad’s acting is fine, not over-stated as in Prisoner of Azkaban, not understated as in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix. His eyes do look rather dead at times but this mostly gives off an air of quiet frustration. However, the film does have some of the humour/sass that we love from Potter. The fight between Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry and Rupert Grint’s Ron shows the skill of both young actors. Ron simmers with subdued anger for much of the second act, finally boiling over due to a combination jealousy, exhaustion, and the influence of the horcrux, and Grint is utterly perfect. He shows that the films have been underestimating him all along – he is not just a comedic fall guy. Out of the three, Emma Watson usually demonstrates her acting chops best, but in this one scene she is far outstripped. It’s nice to see.
Other stand out acting comes from the Death Eater camp. The first scene they appear in shows some amazing acting, particularly that of Tom Felton and Alan Rickman. The subtle emotion in Rickman’s eyes as he looks at his former colleague pleading for help is beautiful and Felton looks like the frightened boy that Draco has become by this point. It’s wonderfully done and makes up for some of the emotional moments that I found to be lacking.
Deathly Hallows Part One isn’t a bad film but I do think it suffers from the splitting of the source material and the clumsy choices of what to include and what not to. I know they made the choice so that the Battle of Hogwarts could be huge and impactful but I feel that they have sacrificed the overall quality of the narrative in both films. To maintain the length of a normal Potter film, they have included hints to a lot of things that were unnecessary but have swept past the basic courtesy of making a film that is accessible to newcomers. The balance is wrong and it disappoints me.