Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010): United Kingdom – directed by David Yates
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some scary sequences, some violence and disturbing material, some sensuality
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 picks up in exactly the same manner as the seventh book in the Harry Potter series, dropping the audience into the middle of the action without any digressive exposition. The Death Eaters are gaining power, the Order of the Phoenix continues their underground struggle to combat Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are in constant danger. Or at least Harry is, being the most wanted man in the magical world, and Hermione and Ron are stuck with him.
Viewers not familiar with the book series, and those who haven’t seen the films recently, may be confused. The film suggests enough for viewers to be reminded of past events and characters. And, as the first of two movies chronicling the final book, it primarily serves to set up all that will transpire in the final chapter. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its charm or excitement.
During an early wedding scene involving Ron’s oldest brother Bill (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) there is a sudden message that the Ministry has been overtaken. Soon Death Eaters are scattering the guests, and Ron, Hermione, and Harry must disapparate to safety.
They find themselves in crowded Muggle streets, but they aren’t safe even there, having been mysteriously pursued by Death Eaters. Soon they’re on the run, across the vast landscapes of Great Britain. They set up camp, cast protective spells, and listen for any news of the Order’s attempts to thwart Voldemort’s plans. At the same time they become obsessed with finding the Horcruxes into which Voldemort has split his soul. These are the key to the only way in which they might be able to eventually finish off the most evil wizard to threaten their world.
A number of important scenes from the first section of the book make an appearance. There’s a visit to Godric’s Hollow to see Harry’s parents’ graves, and a vital scene in the woods involving a cold lake. As part of Ron’s worst fears is realized by an evil mist, there’s a brief moment where a digitized Harry and Hermione make out, mostly (or all) naked. It sounds a bit odd, but actually works rather well in context. A number of secondary and tertiary characters make necessary appearances, including Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans) and his daughter Luna (Evanna Lynch). The elves Kreacher (Simon McBurney) and Dobby (Toby Jones) also fulfill essential roles. Hogwarts is barely mentioned in the film, and there is only a brief scene involving the Hogwarts Express as Death Eaters search it for Mudbloods.
If this plot description does not make much sense, then the movie probably won’t either. It is deliberately told for those familiar with the material, and it is a stronger movie as a result. It wastes little time or effort on explaining the goings-on of the Wizarding world, allowing more time for the story to unfold. One of the strong points is the way the trio’s wanderings are depicted. In the book it drags on interminably, but here it is presented quietly and atmospherically. It is clear that they are miserable and listless, and a combination of long, slow shots helps reinforce this mood. This section may drag for some viewers, but for me it was highly effective at expressing an essential part of the story.
Other segments involve much different directorial flourishes. Three-time Harry Potter director David Yates manages to keep the film flowing by varying technical elements. A chase through the woods involves jerky handheld cameras that move with the characters, evoking their sense of disorientation and confusion. This is an estimable use of such a technique. Another sequence, in which Hermione reads the story of the Deathly Hallows, involves animation so fluid and haunting that, if it were presented on its own as a short film, would be worthy of an Oscar nomination. Generally, however, the directing is kept low-key, allowing the characters to follow their prescribed paths.
Fans of the series should enjoy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, as it successfully adapts the necessary portions of the book and adequately excises the fat. It is alternately exciting and brooding, though it ends at a point that is less climax than the calm before the storm. The primary actors are even more polished than they were previously, and the supporting cast reads like the Hall of Fame of British actors. With this film as the set-up for the best portion of the best book in the series, it will be difficult to wait until next July for Part 2.
Reviews of other Harry Potter films are here: