Potter’s End

This week Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, will be released to a breathless public.  It will be the last installment of the Harry Potter series of movies — movies that, since the first film was released 10 years ago, have generated huge sums for Warner Brothers and theatre owners everywhere.

The Harry Potter movies probably have been the most financially successful series of films ever made.  There have been seven installments, and all have ended up in the top 70 box office hits of all time.  The lowest-grossing film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, grossed just below $250 million and comes in at number 64 on the list; the highest-grossing film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, generated $317 million and is number 26.  The producers have managed to keep the cast of actors playing the principal characters together for the entire ten-year run — excluding Richard Harris, who died after playing Professor Dumbledore for the first two films and was replaced by Michael Gambon — and the youthful actors playing Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) can still plausibly play teenagers.

Critics argue that the Harry Potter movies are not excellent films.  They obviously don’t stack up with Citizen Kane or Gone With The Wind or other classic cinematic landmarks, but that really is not their goal.  Instead, the movies seek to faithfully bring to life a beloved set of books so that the stories can be enjoyed, again, by Harry’s millions of fans.  By this measure, I think the movies have been a huge success.  Parts of the written story have been cut, which is not surprising given the length of some of the books, but the core elements and places are there.  And the actors who have created the principal adult roles — like Alan Rickman with his terrific Severus Snape, Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort, and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange — have put memorable flesh and blood on characters that could have been mere caricatures.

I’ll go to see the last installment in the series and will watch it with pleasure.  I’m particularly interested in seeing how Rickman fills in the final elements of the Severus Snape story, how the filmmakers deal with the curious meeting between Harry and Dumbledore just before the climactic battle at Hogwarts — and whether the somewhat controversial coda to the final book is included.

The King’s Speech

Yesterday Kish, Richard and I went to see The King’s Speech.  The film is every bit as good as the critics are saying, and maybe better.  It is the best movie I have seen in years.

The King’s Speech is a simple story about a man who is struggling to overcome what he considers to be a humiliating affliction — a ferocious, disabling stutter — and the connection he forms with a speech instructor who helps him to overcome it.  That story is told powerfully, and well.

But the film is much more than that.  It works as a historical drama because the story is set against the backdrop of the death of a king, the abdication of another, the rise of Nazi Germany, and an increasingly inevitable war that everyone is dreading.  It works on a deeper level as a human story because the stutterer, a royal, has never really formed a human connection with anyone, much less a commoner from Australia who calls him Bertie and insists on being called Lionel.  And it works because the performances — by Colin Firth as George VI, by Geoffrey Rush as the king’s speech instructor, by Helena Bonham Carter as the king’s wife, and by many, many others — are stunningly good.  Firth is astonishingly effective in communicating the frustrations and embarrassments of a stutterer who strives bravely to overcome his condition and who, in the process, learns about himself, and Rush creates an instantly memorable character who insists on an equal relationship and, when that relationship is formed, radiates warmth and support for his pupil.

The result is an intensely moving film that packs a tremendous emotional impact.  Who would have thought that an American audience would find itself pulling for a British king who must give an important speech?  But pull for him we did.  The King’s Speech is a movie that is well worth seeing.