The first part of The Deathly Hallows takes the darkness of the previous Potter films and cranks it up to 11. It occurs to me that I’ve used the term ‘darker’ a lot in my ramblings and have tended to favour the movies which include ‘darker’ themes. I suppose my reasoning behind this is simply that, by and large, a film with ‘darker’ elements will tend to appeal more to an adult audience and not be too concerned with being child friendly. Furthermore, a bleaker film can often carry more of an emotional impact than a happy-go-lucky light-hearted romp.
It’s not just the case with the HP films either. Empire Strikes Back is often cited as the superior Star Wars movie which is undoubtedly thanks in no small part to its gloomy revelations and downbeat ending. Likewise, the re-booted Batman franchise was considered a triumph thanks to its grittier story and darker themes. In this mould, the Harry Potter films which embraced the darker side of the Potter saga were the ones that really captured the imagination the most. Not only do the darker elements provide the film with long awaited maturity, thus giving a broader appeal, but it also reassures the viewer that these are films that are willing to address moments of genuine terror and peril and not hide behind a sanitised narrative re-jigged to ensure a PG certificate. Now, it’s not simply the case that greater darkness automatically results in a better film, but in the case of the Harry Potter franchise, it seems to go hand in hand.
With that in mind, Deathly Hallows Part 1 doesn’t so much maintain a vague sense of gloom and doom throughout the film as it does throw the viewer in to a pit of despair from the very beginning and keep plunging deeper and deeper . It is definitely the bleakest of the Potter movies, if not quite the very best. In terms of emotional impact though, there’s several major moments and it leaves things perfectly set up for the expected devastation of part 2.
Part 1 maintains a sense of impending doom right from the get-go. The opening sequence unfolds showing Harry alone and nervous in an empty house after the Dursley’s do a runner, followed by Hermione erasing herself from her own parents memory to spare them the pain of losing her should the worst happen. Meanwhile, at the Legion of Doom HQ, Snape (boo-hiss!) joins Voldemort and assorted other evil types to discuss what their plan of attack will be. It also turns out that one of the attendees at this gathering is a Ministry of Magic official. Vol’s spread would appear to have widened yet again.
Meanwhile, back at Privet Drive, Harry is startled by a knock at the door but is soon greeted by a number of friendly faces. A full roster of Order big-hitters arrive to transport him to a designated safe house. Six of the younger members, including Ron and Hermione, drink Polyjuice potion to produce multiple decoy Harry’s and the team then splits up into pairs and makes for The Burrow. No sooner have they got into the air however and they are set upon by Death Eaters.
Hagrid has been tasked with transporting the real Harry and is under strict instructions not to stop no matter what happens. The duo finally arrive at The Burrow joined slowly by the rest of the order. Sadly however, Mad-Eye Moody does not make it back following a particularly fatal encounter with the Death Eaters, while his partner for the journey, Mundungus Fletcher, reportedly apparated at the first sign of danger.
The Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, arrives at The Burrow and presents Harry, Ron and Hermione with possessions of Dumbledore that he bequeathed them in his will. Most notably, Harry is left the sword of Godric Gryffindor, which is unfortunately currently missing.
The Burrow then plays host to the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour, which seems slightly foolish from the Order’s point of view as it involves assembling all their members in one handy easy-to-attack place. When the inevitable Death Eater attack arrives, our three amigos apparate in to Central London in order to escape. Once there, they take refuge in the old Black family residence on Grimmauld Place. After a spot of snooping about they discover that the initials RAB, which were found in the fake Horcrux locket at the end of Half-Blood Prince, belong to Regulus Arcturus Black, Sirius’s younger brother. The Black’s house elf, Kreacher, then informs them that the real Horcrux locket was taken by Mad Eye’s earlier partner, the seedy Mundungus Fletcher, another definite wrong ‘un.
Kreacher and Dobbie (he’s back! The little tinker) drag Mundungus back to the house and our three heroes begin to question him. He finally reveals that he sold the locket to none other than everybody’s favourite psychopathic iron lady Delores Umbridge…..last seen being dragged away by angry centaurs at the end of Order of the Phoenix. She obviously got out of that pickle relatively unscathed.
Using Polyjuice potion, the three of them take the form of three Ministry Officials and pull off a daring raid on the Ministry of Magic itself in order to take back the locket.
Ron, Harry and Hermione then enter the wilderness, part on the run, part seeking out the other Horcruxes. They are still unable to destroy the locket and as they carry it around it begins to affect their moods. The Precious, oops wrong film, the locket weighs especially heavy on Ron and in a fit of paranoid rage he becomes convinced Harry and Hermione are becoming an item. Incensed, he storms off and leaves Harry and Hermione to their quest.
After a fair bit of gloomy wondering, Harry is taking watch one night and sees a Doe Patronus. Upon following the Doe, he arrives at a frozen lake in which he spots the sword of Godric Gryffindor. He dives in to retrieve it but once in the water the locket attempts to strangle him. When all hope seems lost, Ron returns and hauls him to safety. Ron then destroys the Horcrux with the sword.
The three friends then visit Luna’ dad, Xenophilius Lovegood, to ask him about a symbol he wore on his necklace at the Weasley-Delacour wedding which has also repeatedly emerged on their travels. Xenophilius tells them the tale of the three Deathly Hallows, a legendary fairytale which may or may not be based on truth. There’s not really room here to do this story justice, so I’ll skip to the end and merely say that the three Deathly Hallows consist of a Resurrection Stone, a Cloak of Invisibility and “the Elder Wand”. The Elder Wand is an all powerful wand which cannot be defeated by any other. Naturally, such a wand is right up Big Vol’s alley, but in his hand this wand could prove disastrous. At the film’s climax, the dark one learns that the wand was in Dumbledore’s possession when he died and had been buried with him in his tomb. Voldemort arrives at Dumbledore’s resting place and takes the wand for himself.
Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows is a lot like a slow descent into cinematic depression. Even for a non-Potter book reader such as myself, you can understand that most of the story arcs will be tied up in Part 2 and little will be resolved in this offering. As such, there’s little to look forward to apart from death, destruction and demoralisation (that is some first class alliteration right there).
Early on we see a glum Hermione wipe her Parent’s memories so that they are spared the potential misery if something should happen to her. This is a bold gesture from H-Grang as she is basically succumbing to the fact that she may very well not return from this adventure and at aged 17, is not setting out into the big Wizard world on her own. However, this does seems a touch of the ridiculous about it as surely there is still a room full of girls’ stuff in her parent’s house? I’m pretty sure there will still be relatives and neighbours who will still remember Hermione’s existence and failing that Social Services are going to be pretty interested in the Granger’s if they flat out deny a child’s existence when their daughter has been widely seen by the local community?
When we arrive at Malfoy Manor and see the congregated gaggle of baddies looking menacing yet slightly nervous in Voldemort’s presence, one can’t help but notice the woman floating above the table with a face contorted in pain and covered in blood. As Vol holds court with his minions and they debate the date of Potter’s movement from his home on Privet Drive, the tension builds thanks to this proverbial elephant in the room. Finally, when discussions have died down, Vol acknowledges the terrified figure who we now learn is the muggle-studies teacher at Hogwarts (who is presumably held in about the same regard at Hogwarts as a PE teacher is at a normal school) and slowly floats her over towards him. As the teacher pleads with Snape “Severus help, we are friends!” Vol unleashes his pet snake which launches a deadly attack at the teacher. This is a truly disturbing and haunting scene. It’s still early doors in the film and we’ve got unflinchg torture and death on display already, which pretty much sets the tone for everything that follows.
The theme of pure-blooded wizards and the ‘undesirables’ that go with it have been strongly alluded to in previous outings, most notably by the Malfoy’s and their distain for Hermione. The fascist theme first raised its head in Order of the Phoenix as The Daily Prophet ran its smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore and the Ministry used its power to manipulate daily life at Hogwarts. In Deathly Hallows Part 1, it becomes clear that the whole film, heck, the whole franchise, has basically revolved around this theme. Voldemort despises muggles and mudbloods and would happily wipe them off the face of the earth, likewise his army of Death Eaters despise mudbloods and only have time for pureblood wizards. Their motivation for wanting to kill Potter is not just for personal reasons; it is to take out the last remaining obstacle to their total control over society.
As a result of these intentions, they soon resort to standard fascist tricks such as propaganda in this movie (through the Daily Prophet once more), witch hunts (see the singling out of non pureblood wizards at the Ministry) and the rounding up of ‘undesirables’ (speaks for itself). The Ministry, once it is fully under Vol’s control, becomes an all-powerful tool of the state that does not allow dissent and resorts to violence and intimidation to enforce its beliefs. Once again, any notion that this is a kids’ film has truly gone out the water.
Along the way in Deathly Hallows Part 1, we do face the further loss of much loved characters *SPOILER AL…….. You know what, no, forget the spoiler alert, if you’ve read this far I’m going to assume you have also seen the films….why else would you be reading this? Early on there’s poor old loyal owl Hedwig who snuffs it, followed by Mad-Eye Moody himself. Mad-Eye’s death and the leak which tipped the Death Eaters off to Harry’s move is eventually blamed on Mundungus Fletcher, a shifty looking petty thief. Why did they even hire him to do the work in the first place? He is quite clearly a criminal and not to be trusted. Also, how they don’t catch on that he was the leak early on I don’t know, especially given that he was the only one at Harry’s house we haven’t been introduced to. Its standard Scooby Doo rules, people!
Later on, in a strangely touching scene, a character who started off incredibly annoying but eventually became a likeable hero also snuffs it. No I don’t mean Hermione….she was never likeable. Dear old Dobby saves Harry and the gang’s life, but it is this heroic move which ultimately causes his demise, at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange. There he is on a deserted windswept beach, dying in Harry’s arms talking about how good it is to be with friends. I could scarcely believe it but that annoying little Jar-Jar creature snuffing it was actually surprisingly moving. *sniff*, I am nowhere near prepared for part 2.
Out on their camping adventure, as the mood gets more and more fraught, Ron especially succumbs to the locket’s powers and becomes a brooding mix between a bratty teenager and Gollum. To be fair to Ron though, as well as Harry and Hermione, the moments between the three of them are arguably their strongest acting to date. Away from the magical majesty of Hogwarts and forced to go it alone, we finally glimpse the mature side of the characters and they deliver their most believable performances yet.
When the gang visit Luna’s dad (I’m not learning how to spell his name) we get one of the stand-out scenes in the film for me, as he tells them of the story of the three brothers and the Deathly Hallows. Hermione recognises the story from the book Dumbeldore bequeathed her and she reads it aloud to the group. The story is shown as an animated short using predominantly black outlines on a sepia background. It is an incredibly effective piece of work and really adds to the surreal nature of the legend. Yet again it contains some dark imagery, such as the initial pact between the three brothers and death and then the suicide of the second brother, but this really emphasises the dark nature of the film as a whole.
There is a poignant scene early on where Harry takes one final look in the cupboard under the stairs where it all began those many years ago. A lot has changed since then and the boy wizard has come a long way. For those who have been with the movies since the beginning, over a decade ago, there is definitely something here that they can relate to. Harry’s longing gaze sees him hark back to the carefree days of the Philosopher’s Stone, when his biggest worry was getting sent to his room by his Uncle. Ahhhhh, a simpler time for us all. With three Horcruxes still to be found and the Elder wand now in the hands of Voldemort, it’s an uphill battle left for Harry and his pals to fight.