(Part 7) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Half Blood Prince sees director David Yates continue the ominous tone of Order of the Phoenix, though this time there’s far more focus on the blossoming relationships between the key characters as opposed to the raging against the machine that went on in the previous movie. The film combines light and dark well to begin with but as it builds towards an incredibly downbeat ending, the gloom begins to engulf not only Harry but the whole of Hogwarts and beyond. As the Hogwarts choir once sang in more carefree times, something wicked this way comes. On the topic of the sombre ending and the death of THAT major character, please note I am just going to come out and say it when the time comes so if you have somehow avoided finding out who dies at the end of The Half Blood Prince up to this point…..maybe just stop reading now.
HP6 begins with Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy (mother of Draco, missus of Lucius) skulking through some grimy terrace houses in the rain. Eventually, they arrive at their destination and who should be there, shock horror, but Severus Snape. Has he been working for the dark side this whole time? Only time will tell. It emerges that young Draco has been chosen by Big Vol himself to carry out a very important mission. Bellatrix and Narcissa convince Snape to make the Unbreakable Vow and promise to protect Draco and help him on his quest. The consequence of taking this vow is that should Snape break it, he will die.
Meanwhile Harry accompanies Dumbledore to the current abode of Horace Slughorn, a former teacher at Hogwarts who Dumbledore convinces to return to his post. He informs Harry that Slughorn’s return to Hogwarts is of utmost importance.
Later, in a desolate and deserted Diagon Alley, Harry, Ron and Hermione spot Draco and Narcissa mingling with Death Eaters in the Borgin and Burkes shop. Harry suspects Draco has become a Death Eater himself, but his pals aren’t so sure.
Back at School, after arriving late and unprepared for Professor Slughorn’s Potion’s class, Harry and Ron borrow two textbooks. In Harry’s there are various helpful notes left by its previous owner who is known only as the Half-Blood Prince. The notes help Harry to excel in the class, even doing better than Hermione, which does not go down well with Miss Granger.
Harry spends Christmas with the Weasley’s at their isolated home, The Burrow. Just when Harry is about to kiss Ginny Weasley, Bellatrix and another Death Eater called Fenrir Greyback arrive to try and capture the boy wonder. Harry, Ginny and visiting members of the Order manage to scare the duo off, but not before they set The Burrow ablaze. The Weasleys watch their family home burn to the ground and what one would imagine to be the first of many sacrifices the Weasley’s will make comes to pass.
Back at school, Dumbledore shows Harry some old memories of a young Tom Riddle. He cites one specific memory which involves Professor Slughorn and the young Voldemort which Slughorn has apparently tampered with. When Harry finally retrieves the real memory from Slughorn, it is revealed that the Professor told the inquisitive young Riddle about the use of Horcruxes. Horcruxes are items which contain part of a wizard’s soul and guarantee him immortality unless they are all destroyed. Harry and Dumbledore soon catch on that this is the source of Voldemort’s powers and all the Horcruxes must be found and destroyed in order to defeat the dark one. Riddle spoke of creating seven Horcruxes in total and between Harry and Dumbledore, two have already been destroyed. The duo then travel to a remote cave where Dumbledore believes a third Horcrux resides. After drinking a mind-altering potion in order to retrieve it, Dumbledore becomes severely weakened but is just about able to save them both from a swarm of Inferi (corpses controlled by a Dark Wizard) and apparates them both back to Hogwarts.
Once back at the top of Hogwarts’ Astronomy tower, Dumbledore instructs Harry to fetch Snape (is his trust misplaced?), but before Harry can go, he hears footsteps and Draco and a gang of Death Eaters arrive on the scene. Draco has helped the Death Eaters enter Hogwarts and it is apparent that Harry’s assumptions about young Malfoy were correct. Draco is intended to kill Dumbedore but cannot follow through with his plan. At that moment Snape turns up and with Harry looking on form his hiding place, he kills Dumbledore with the Avada Kedavra curse. DUN-DUN DUUUUUUUUUN. Did Snape do this out of loyalty to the evil one, or simply because he had no choice thanks to the Unbreakable Vow he took?
With Dumbledore gone and the defences of Hogwarts breached the Death Eaters begin to destroy the school. When a tearful Harry chases after them and confronts Snape, Snape reveals that he is in fact the Half-Blood Prince after all. The Death Eaters make their escape and the Hogwarts staff and students mourn the loss of Dumbledore.
Once again the bleakness is ratcheted up that little bit more. There’s the odd moment of brevity in Half-Blood Prince, such as Ron’s turn after being spiked with a love potion and Harry’s after the luck potion, but other than that, family fun is thin on the ground.
The film starts with Death Eaters causing havoc in central London (I think the secret may be out re: the existence of a wizarding world) and then sees them move on to Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley gets badly damaged at the film’s outset and looks like a ghost town come the midway point when Harry and pals have a little spy on Malfoy. Looking back at the lively, vibrant and welcoming Alley we saw in The Philosopher’s Stone, it all suddenly seems a very long time ago now. Life has definitely changed and it’s a timely reminder of the colossal impact Voldemort has had upon the Wizard world.
Early on we see Bellatrix and Mother Malfoy visiting Snape and signing him up to team-evil by making him take the unbreakable vow to protect young Draco. Later he pretty much confirms his place as villain number 1 by offing Dumbledore. As if his status as a cast-iron baddie needed cementing even more, he is also appointed the Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher. It’s like the final nail in a baddie coffin once you get that job. Is this the turning of the tides? Has Snape been working for the dark lord all along? Was Dumbledore wrong to trust him? All will be revealed in time. Mind you, most people who read this have probably read the books and know already what happens, so all has already been revealed. Still….my point remains, Snape will have a great bearing on the final outcome.
Draco Malfoy has a prominent part to play in HP6 and to be fair to Tom Felton, he does finally manage to give the character a bit more depth than we have seen in previous instalments. Rather than just snarling “Pottarrrr” and ranting on about racial purity, this film requires Draco to show actual emotion and fully embrace the dark lord as his master. He’s always been a wrong ‘un, but now its official. On the Hogwarts Express at the outset of the film, it would appear Draco has truly embraced the dark side, becoming some sort of mafia don dressed in black and riding in a private carriage surrounded by his Slytherin minions. It’s like a lost scene from Bugsy Malone.
The most prominent new character is definitely Professor Slughorn, played superbly by the legendary Jim Broadbent. Slughorn is part bumbling old professor and part wise old hand. He has seen it all in the Wizarding world and has taught everyone from Harry’s parents to a certain Master Tom Riddle. It is slightly creepy the way we are constantly told that Slughorn ‘collects’ students like trophies. He constantly invites them up for private gatherings in his chambers and the like. I can’t quite put my finger on the right word for it, but it does have the air of “our special secret” about it.
There are a couple of hard-hitting moments that once again remind you that this is definitely not a franchise aimed at young children. First off, there is the assault and burning down of the Weasley family home. The Weasleys have proven to be something of a rock for Harry over the years and The Burrow represents their little island of solitude amidst the encroaching storm. Now it is burned to the ground. The price paid by the Weasleys for helping Harry starts to mount up. Secondly, there is the cave scene where Harry and Dumbledore are searching for a third Horcrux. Here we see Dumbledore in pain and not in total control for the first time. It’s strange to see the elder statesmen of the series who has seemed so powerful and wise until now, reduced to a quivering wreck. The attack of the Inferi shortly after is especially scary even by the franchise’s normal standards. The awoken corpses appear to have Harry cornered and drag him down to his watery grave, only a timely intervention from Dumbledore stops them from doing so.
Half-Blood Prince also sees the teenage hormones once again racing through Hogwarts. Love potions are introduced and one young lady attempts to woo Harry Potter with it. Lest we forget, this is essentially wizard rohypnol. She was spiking Harry’s drink and was planning to take advantage when his guard was down. Still….all part of the fun of boarding school, ay? Ron has his own stalker to be dealing with and, much to Hermione’s dismay; he succumbs to her charms (such as they are). Hermione herself agrees to go on a date with the Hogwarts equivalent of your generic American High School Jock. All he’s missing is the jacket with his initials on. Meanwhile, Harry admits his feelings for Ginny who is seen smooching some other student in a pub. Christ, it’s a wonder they get any work done at all. It’s like an episode of Skins. These young romances fit into the narrative far better than they did in Goblet of Fire and act as a type of light-hearted relief as the depressing events happen around them. The overuse of the word ‘snog’ does set my cringe-alarm into overdrive though.
The kids are clearly all growing up, but they are still, unless my maths has deceived me, 16 years old, 17 at a push. At one stage though they go for ‘butterbeers’ at a nearby bar. At first I thought these must be non-alcoholic beers, but then on their way home, Hermione, the lush, begins stumbling around and telling Harry “you my besht mate you are” (I exaggerate slightly). I know the Challenge 21 policy may not extend to the wizarding world, but I think local pubs would do well to implement it soon. Young, partially trained and pissed Wizards roaming around is surely only going to lead to trouble.
At the film’s emotional climax, we get a glimpse into the destruction and death that awaits Hogwarts in the final two films. The great hall is destroyed by the demented Bellatrix, Dumbledore croaks it and Snape has seemingly turned to the dark side. When Harry chases after Snape and it is revealed that Snape is the Half-Blood prince of the textbook and movie-title fame, the shock and horror on Harry’s face is clear to see. Possibly the most downbeat ending yet of the series, with very few glimmers of hope offered to the weary Harry and his friends.
Overall the movie maintains the darkness of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix, but still isn’t quite as gripping. The stand alone story isn’t quite as strong and serves more as a set up for the final two instalments. There are some standout scenes however, particularly the attack on The Burrow and the moody flashbacks to Tom Riddle’s Machiavellian tormenting of the doddering Professor Slughorn. The scene is well and truly set for The Deathly Hallows Part 1…..expect no light hearted comic relief here.