Over the years, the Harry Potter series has attracted some of Great Britian’s greatest acting talent. Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Kenneth Branagh, and Gary Oldman have all appeared in the films. And Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, and Michael Gambon (who replaced the late Richard Harris) are series regulars. (It’s to JK Rowling’s endless credit that she has written characters so juicy, these scene stealers simply can’t resist.)
But what I truly marvel at is the casting of the three main children. After all, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson were all about 11 years old when they were first cast in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And I have a hunch that if the producers were recasting the film eight years later, they’d assemble the exact same group. Radcliffe’s role is the toughest—he has to make Harry virtuous and earnest without being dull. But Radcliffe has a natural heroism about him, an understated confidence, and he plays Harry with a slight hint of sadness that adds depth. (After all, it’s tough being the Chosen One). Emma Watson was a pretty little girl, but she has turned into a real beauty—hey, if you’ve followed the careers of child stars, you know that was no guarantee. She’s also a fine actress who ably projects Hermione’s defiant intelligence (as a Muggle-born wizard she has to be twice as good as her classmates). Grint has become a master clown (as the somewhat ungainly Ron Weasley, he bears a lot of the film’s physical comedy) and a completely lovable best friend for Harry. You might as well throw young Tom Felton into the mix. He was already a touch creepy and leonine as young Draco Malfoy—and he’s aged perfectly; he’s like a sinister teen Julian Sand.
I talk about the young cast because I think they get to do some of their best work in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. They’re true teenagers now—facing the romantic yearnings and the insecurities and the malleable sense of identity that comes with that age. Once again, the great wizard Dumbledore (Gambon) has “asked too much of” Harry. He wants his protégée to befriend Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a slightly washed up wizard still looking for vicarious glory, and convince the old man to share his long- buried memory of a pivotal encounter with a young Voldemort.
Meanwhile, Harry has found a potion book marked up years ago by someone who goes by the moniker The Half-Blood Prince. Since the markings suggest this Half-Blood Prince to be a superior wizard, he could either be a great ally, or great adversary, if only Harry could uncover his identity.
Directed by David Yates (who also directed Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is truly fabulous—fanciful and laugh-out-loud funny at times, darkly terrifying at others. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is beautiful, almost painterly—the world of Hogwarts has never seemed so vivid. The grownup cast are their usual brilliant selves: Broadbent is a nice addition as the fretting Slughorn; Gambon is wise and kingly as ever as Dumbledore; Alan Rickman is darkly imposing as the mysterious Snapes; and Helena Bonham Carter, giddily wicked as the voracious Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange.
Two more movies to go. Sigh. I was a late convert to the Harry Potter phenomenon, but it’s official: I’m going to miss this series when it’s gone. I may even have to read the damn books.