Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1


Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Jason Isaacs, Peter Mullan, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis, Julie Walters 12A cert, gen release, 146 min

THE WEAKEST film released this week is something to do with a young man on a camping holiday. That’s not all there is to it. He and his two friends – one a dreary posh girl, the other a spirited chatterbox – are involved in some sort of feud with a noseless warlock. While they sit moping in their tent, a hundred peculiar personalities, some good, some bad, all played by famous character actors, lurk in superficially beautiful gothic environments and mutter about wands, amulets and swords.

What on earth is the point of this strange entity? Apparently, the film, the seventh in a series of eight, is based on a popular roman-fleuveby some wealthy Englishwoman. If you haven’t read the books or seen any of the earlier movies then you will, most likely, find the experience boring, confusing and irritating. I can’t see it catching on.

Enough facetiousness. The point, of course, is that half the world hasread JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. That same half (plus another few million) has also seen each of the beautifully made, slavishly faithful movies. The latest film, part one in a bifurcated adaptation of the final novel, will suit the enthusiasts perfectly nicely. The rest of us may as well argue against the wind.

You either already know the plot or you don’t care. Anyway, for the record, Harry (passable Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (wooden Emma Watson) and Ron (excellent Rupert Grint), all now practically middle-aged, are on a mission to track down those magical objects, sources of Voldemort’s power, known as the Horcruxes. The Death Eaters, the Evil One’s gang, are in the ascendant and, as a result, the three heroes are forced to proceed with more than usual caution.

In the opening passage, a significant cabal of Potter’s chums all take a potion that changes them into versions of their leader. Chaos and injuries occur, but the triumvirate survives and, after infiltrating the Death Eater lair, they find themselves cast adrift in a windswept section of the English countryside. Happily, they’ve brought their tent.

It should be stressed that, as ever, the production values are high and the supporting performances (every passing lollipop lady has a Tony) classy throughout. The Harry Potterfranchise has, if nothing else, demonstrated the strength of British and Irish film technicians.

Sadly, once again, the plot is so unfocused and scattershot that, with apologies for the efforts above, it utterly defies lucid synopsis. For the last three episodes, we have been offered a near homogenous strip of Potter fabric (Potterylene?) that, after being measured along the ruler of Rowling’s prose, is served up in bolts weighty enough to affect the orbit of distant planets. Various magic objects are sought. Various ancient relationships are renewed. Nothing resembling narrative structure is ever attained.

The first few films did, at least, have some jolliness about them. Here, attempting a portentousness more appropriate to Wagner or Ibsen, competent director David Yates delivers a film that exhibits near-lunatic delusions about its own importance. The depiction of the Death Eater society appears to be a half-formed commentary on totalitarianism. The sky is always awash with Bergmanesque greys. This is no fun at all.

Mind you, as an audiovisual accompaniment to the books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowsprobably works just as well as its predecessors. Less demanding enthusiasts will enjoy checking off incidents from the novel as they crawl unhurriedly across the screen. Fair enough, but is that what movies are really for?

Do you agree?

Comment on this review in Donald Clarke’s blog: irishtimes.com/blogs/screenwriter