The ultimate 'Harry Potter' crib sheet

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Our resident Potter professor, Wally Hammond, offers the ultimate introduction to 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'

So what happened at the end of the last film, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’?
The climactic battle in the finale of the fifth instalment pitted Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and the members of the Dumbledore private army against the prime-evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his malfeasant henchman, Lucius Malfoy. Fought amid a calamitous, crashing cascade of memory-minding glass balls, it was a damned close run thing – but tantalisingly inconclusive.

The good news?
Fourfold: the centaurs in the Dark Forest have taken Umbridge (the Thatcher-esque replacement headmistress of Hogwarts). Meanwhile, Fudge and the other truth-denying men at the Ministry of Magic have been forced to admit that the deadly threat to both the wizard and muggle (ie, non-magic) world is real. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) are back in the ranks. And the ex-communicated Harry has been returned to the fold.

The bad news?
Voldemort survives to continue his reign of terror – and Harry now knows it’s personal. He returns to the dreadful Dursleys in 4 Privet Drive knowing that in the imminent final showdown either he or Voldemort must die. (For full details of their mighty, fateful cataclysm, we must presumably await the saga’s seventh and final instalment, the two-part ‘Harry and the Deathly Hallows’.)

Who are Harry’s enemies?
As ever, Harry’s arch-rival, sworn enemy and deadly antagonist is the unspeakable Voldemort – referred to, in whispered tones, as ‘you-know-who’ by those who fear him – the Dark Lord and the assassin of Harry’s parents. Voldemort, however, has been ingenious in enlisting a varied legion of seditious supporters, ranging from the Dementors of ‘The Order of the Phoenix’, to the airborne Death Eaters, who ravage and destroy London in deadly black ink trails in the opening of ‘The Half-Blood Prince’.

And who are Harry’s friends?
Dear ruffled red-top Ron (Rupert Grint) and haughty, heroic Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry’s fellow scholars at Hogwarts. Together, they have formed the tightest and most supportive of bonds over six years of shared studious incarceration, deadly adversity and shape-threatening school-feasts. But latterly, since the security of Hogwarts has become increasingly undermined, certain Phoenix Order members have come to the fore, such as the avuncular Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and the maternal Molly Weasley (Julie Walters). And Dumbledore has forged a closer, more paternal allegiance as he has revealed Harry’s ‘chosen’ status and destiny to the lonely 16-year-old bearer of awesome responsibility.

Harry Potter is a proper teenager now. What
s his romantic situation?
The ‘Half-Blood Prince’ could have been renamed as ‘Harry and the Attack of the Raging Hormones’. The physiological changes wrought by late adolescence, not to mention the misuse of the love-potions concocted by new Potions Master Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), have turned Hogwarts into an amorous madhouse: Wretched Ron is seen excruciatingly embarrassed by the mating displays and doting affections of lovelorn Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), just as he has fallen gaga-in-love with the Pre-Raphaelite-haired charms of Romilda Vane (Anna Shaffer) – much to the tearful chagrin of jilted Hermione. Meanwhile Harry’s tender regard for Ron’s blossoming sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) finds impediments in the forms of her new suitor Dean Thomas (Alfie Enoch) and Ron’s brotherly protectiveness. And it’s not helped by Harry’s martial duty – as a timely call to arms prevents their first sweet kiss.

It
s eight years since the first film. Why is Harry still at school?
Harry celebrated his eleventh birthday in the first of the series, ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’, and enters his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ – so he’s 16 now. Although, his 1989-born, Fulham-raised incarnator, Daniel Radcliffe, hits the big two-oh on July 23 this year and has the musculature to prove it (as theatre audiences who witnessed his naked stable boy in Peter Shaffer’s ‘Equus’ can testify). ‘You could do with a shave’, admonishes Dumbledore near the end of ‘The Half-Blood Prince’, in a self-mocking nod to the discrepancy. Radcliffe is currently filming ‘The Deathly Hallows Parts One and Two’, slated for release in the Novembers of 2010 and 2011, so he shouldn’t be exhibiting back hair, bald head, bandy legs or any other signs of incipient physical dotage when the last instalments finally screen.

Has Daniel Radcliffe developed as an actor over the years?
Yes. His scrotum-tightening experience on stage, his other film (in Rod Hardy’s ‘December Boys’) and TV work (Kipling’s son in ‘My Boy Jack’) alongside his publicly aired Potter-training during these last nine years have stood him in good stead. He exhibits an increasing range in ‘The Half-Blood Prince’, giving greater authority to his heroics, offering a credible and mature romanticism where required, and leavening the whole brew with a welcome new line in self-deprecating humour.

This is David Yates’s second time directing a ‘Harry Potter’ film. Is that a good thing?
Helming a Potter film involves great pressure and a massive responsibility. Director Chris Columbus set a daunting initial record with the first pair, pushing ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ and ‘The Chamber of Secrets’ into the two top places of the all-time UK films at the UK box-office. National Film School graduate Yates, only the second director to attempt more than one, interestingly named Alfonso Cuarón’s darker-edged ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ (the occupier of the fourth slot) as his favourite. Back with American scriptwriter Steve Kloves (the scriptwriter of all of the series, save ‘The Order of the Phoenix’, Yates’s last outing), Yates has brought an approachability, a maturity and a quiet seriousness to the films, notably working well with the 400 or more CGI and sfx team to ensure the design never overpowers the drama and performances – and, rightfully, has been trusted, with Kloves, to see the project through to the end.

Are the films getting more grown-up and ‘darker’ as the characters age?
What’s interesting about the Potter series, is how it has extended beyond its bounds as a fantasy adventure and a (sometimes quaint) summa of British traditions – literary, cultural and architectural. It draws out an extended metaphor not only of the tiers, tears and triumphs of schooldays, but also as British cinema’s perhaps most ambitious and successful rights-of-passage saga. Yates and Cuarón, in particular, have allowed our present anxieties – which come from living in a fast-changing, increasingly insecure and threatening world – to seep in and imaginatively inform the adolescent world of the Potter films. But they’ve done so without succumbing to the more dire or apocalyptic visions manifest in many Hollywood films – from ‘I Am Legend’ to ‘The Dark Knight’. Let’s say the Potter films are not getting darker but, very suitably, more grown-up and awake.

Should I go and see ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ if I haven
t seen any of the other films or read any of the books?
Yes. ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ is a club that’s easy to join. Very ably directed in its own right, it not only presents a manageable number of nicely differentiated characters: good guys, bad guys and middling pains-in-the-ass like Ms Brown. The film dextrously mixes drama, action set-pieces, visual flourishes, romance, humour, magical symbolism and meticulous design, but it also has the boldness to offer – deeply unfashionably this! – a moral. That is: youth can offer age lessons on optimism and courage – and age may confer upon youth security, support and wisdom. So together we must await, or avert, the final showdown with the bad guys. At least, that is, until November 2011.


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