“Mysterious thing, Time”– Albus Dumbledore. It really is! And that’s what you realize when you are invited to revisit the wondrous wizarding world you had left behind 10 years ago. That’s how “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” begins and if there’s one word that could describe the whole 1 hour and 42 minutes retrospective special (streaming on HBO Max and Amazon Prime), it would definitely be “Nostalgia”! It is true that some of the books from J.K. Rowling’s debut novel series had released much earlier than the movies, but it was not till 2001 that most of us, who had been living in different parts of the world, got a chance to experience the amazing and unbelievable Wizarding World of The Boy Who Lived. The movies made the novel popular; they allowed the story to reach out to children even in the remotest corners of the world. And thus, started a journey for every Potterhead out there, which would change their lives forever!
As John Williams’ “Harry’s Wondrous World” plays in the background and the Hogwarts Castle comes into view once again from across the Black Lake, with all its lighted turrets and windows, and Emma Watson opens the doors to the Great Hall, we are ushered into that world once again, which happens to be our “healthy form of escapism” even now, as so rightly quoted by Matthew Lewis aka Neville Longbottom. I feel the best part of being a 90s kid and a Potterhead simultaneously, is that you sort of grew up with the actors. Seeing them who had brought the young characters alive onscreen, who had given colors to our imaginations, like Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Evanna Lynch, James and Oliver Phelps, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright and so many others, all grown up and in their late 20s or early 30s now, getting married or having kids just like our friends are, all around us, made me realize how much time has passed. Even then, it feels like yesterday that we were watching the films with utmost awe and wonder in the movie theaters.
As I delve deeper into the reunion special episode, which has been divided into 4 chapters, each representing two movies at a time, showing glimpses of the shots and the sets and also the actors’ experiences while shooting for each of them, I can’t help but wonder at how beautifully they have recreated the aura of the wizarding world throughout the entire duration of the episode. Starting from the actors receiving their Hogwarts’ letters, addressed to them in their specific locations at the time, like “The Coffee Shop, Chelsea” or “The Black Cab” reminds us of Harry’s shocking expression, when he receives his first Hogwarts Letter with the specific address “The Cupboard Under the Stairs”. It also reminds us strangely of how as children, when we had turned 11 years old, we actually prayed to God for sending us that letter, so that we could journey from our ridiculously boring Muggle world into the amazing world of Harry Potter. It reminds us of the innocence we once had, and how we seem to have lost that along the way.
Each of the four chapters begins with the narrator reading out a line from J.K Rowling’s books and as we move into the first one, The Boy Who Lived, we are reminded of some of the amazing actors who had contributed as much to the series, as the child actors. The twinkling eyes of Richard Harris could not have been more apt for the long-bearded, white-haired Albus Dumbledore, drawn at the back of the first ever book cover of the Harry Potter series. Maggie Smith’s Professor McGonagall, Robbie Coltrane’s Rubeus Hagrid, Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape and Richard Griffiths’ Uncle Vernon, seemed to have jumped out of the pages of J.K. Rowling’s book. Stuart Craig, who was the Production Designer for the entire Harry Potter movie franchise, had created the impossible world of the wizards with utmost ease and grandeur. Thousands of lighted candles were hung from the end of fishing lines to recreate the floating candles adorning the ceiling of the Great Hall, as mentioned in the books. The scenes where we witness the Burrow for the first time and see how a wizarding family washes their dishes or knits their sweaters, the comparison between good and bad wizarding families so drastically portrayed with the entry of Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy, brings the first chapter to an end.
The second chapter, Coming of Age, portrays the third and fourth movies of the series and was indeed the time when we too were in limbo between our childhood and adulthood, just like Harry, Ron and Hermione. These books or movies ushered in the era of crushes, infatuations and the pangs of teenage love along with the introduction of deep and dark concepts of dementors sucking out your joy and happiness, of overcoming your deepest fears and darkness, of standing at the threshold of adulthood. New actors like Gary Oldman, David Thewlis and Timothy Spall were introduced into the series. At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the entire universe shifts suddenly and the series which was popular as a childrens’ book, soon became something more sinister with the introduction of Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort. The death of Cedric Diggory marks that moment when Harry has his first reality check and so does the audience, as we are prepared to face the perils of adulthood.
In The Light and Dark Within, Mathew Lewis as Neville and Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, bring forth the world of “misfits” and “oddbots”, where children who are shy or introvert or different from those around them, children who have been bullied in schools or in playgrounds, relate themselves to popular and famous characters for the first time, and find that they can belong in the society too. The two-dimensional, complex character of Draco Malfoy, torn between what is right and what is not, reflects so many of us who had once made all the wrong choices in the wrong company and had later learnt from our regrets and mistakes. Helena Bonham Carter, who had played the role of the psychopathic, evil, and most devoted Death-Eater, Bellatrix Lestrange, talks about the impact the series has had on generations of children who failed to get good marks in exams, or who weren’t the best when it came to sports. The world of Harry Potter showed with immense humanity, depth, and vulnerability that being different makes us special as we fall in love with the characters of Luna and Neville.
Before they move onto the last and final chapter though, they remind us of the fact that these were the movies in which Harry encounters grief for the first time in his life as he loses Sirius and Dumbledore, the two adults who had been closest to what the orphaned boy could claim as “parents”. As the reunion special takes us inside the pensieve, into the memories of some of the great actors who have passed away in the 10 years since the last movie of the franchise released, we raise our wands along with so many other witches and wizards, all watching the reunion from the comforts of their homes, to remember and honor all those amazing actors like Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Helena McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy), Richard Harris(Albus Dumbledore in first two movies), John Hurt (Ollivander the wandmaker), Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon) and Robert Hardy(Cornelius Fudge).
In the final chapter, Something Worth Fighting For, scenes from the last two movies are reminisced by the actors, as the trio leaves the comfort of their school for the first time and faces the struggles of the real world, as we all do, when we leave school or college. Mathew Lewis talks about the last speech of Neville in front of Lord Voldemort, the speech which sealed Neville’s character forever as one of the bravest Gryffindors we knew and as the true son of his brave Auror parents, and how that speech had impacted him both as a human being and as an actor. For fans like us, who had read all the books by then and already knew how the series would end, held onto these two movies as our last thread of connection to the world we had loved and craved to belong to, the last thread of connection to our childhood which was slowly slipping away. Potterheads would often claim this series to be more than just a children’s book, because the magical world which J.K Rowling wove around Harry Potter had lots of stories within stories, had individual character curves, had concepts so philosophical and deep that it often had a transformative effect on people’s lives!
As the last day of the shoot is shown and the actors are seen crying and hugging each other, we realize that even though they might not live on, the characters they portrayed will do and the legacy of Harry Potter and the masterpiece which J.K.Rowling has created, will continue to inspire generations to come. Emma Watson echoes the very thoughts of my heart and soul when she says, “There’s something about Harry Potter that makes life richer. Like, when things get really dark and times are really hard, stories give us places we can go, where we can rest and feel held”. The wizarding world of Harry Potter has been that story and that place for me, my source of happiness and inspiration in times of grief, loss and desperation. As I therefore, see the last scene of the special episode unfold before my eyes, and Dumbledore looks at Snape’s patronus, uttering one of the most epic dialogues of the series, I realize that every time someone would judge or question my devotion towards Harry Potter and the Wizarding World and ask, “After all this time?”, I would probably utter the same words Snape did – “ALWAYS!”
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