Hogwarts and All: Philip Kerr on How Arthurian Magic Saves Harry Potter from Being a Muggle. (Film)

By Kerr, Philip | New Statesman (1996), November 19, 2001 | Go to article overview

Hogwarts and All: Philip Kerr on How Arthurian Magic Saves Harry Potter from Being a Muggle. (Film)


Kerr, Philip, New Statesman (1996)


In common with most of the adult members of the cast of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, I haven' tread J K Rowling' s book; but my elder son has read all of them, and therefore it was inevitable that he and his younger brother should accompany me to see the film. Or should that be the other way round? These two boys declared it was the best film they had ever seen -- but then, they said the same about Cats and Dogs, and they'll probably say the same about The Lord of the Rings when, eventually, that comes out. My own opinion is that Harry Potter is pretty good, and that adults with children will probably enjoy it, too.

The story is a familiar one, involving a chosen child and, given the archetype (plus a reported [pounds sterling]90m budget), the appropriate magic seems certain to follow. Following the death of his parents, the baby Harry (Arthur) is taken by a Professor of Wizardry named Dumbledore (Merlin), to be brought up by Mr Dursley and his family (Sir Ecktor and his son, Kay). Harry is forced to live like a drudge until, one day, a letter arrives inviting him to take up a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Rowling's fictional school is surely based on one of the many Gothic piles of educational misery in Edinburgh, where the author lives, an impression that is enhanced by the presence of Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, seemingly reprising her role as Miss Jean Brodie. Given Harry's new incarnation as a Scottish public schoolboy, we are soon left with the sense that what we have here is a case of rex quondam rexque futurus, the king who once was and who will be again.

At the same time, however, Harry learns that his parents were killed by the evil Voldemort (Morgan Le Fay), and that he has a sinister young rival in the person of Draco Malfoy (Mordred). Voldemort is still at large, living a half-life on the blood of unicorns and plotting to steal nothing less than the philosophers' stone that grants eternal life (the Holy Grail).

That's enough archetypes. How about something a little less Jungian than an archetype, something a little more Hollywood? Such as a high concept? (Yes.) This film is Star Wars meets Tom Brown's Schooldays. There, that's better.

To be honest, Harry is not really much of a part for Daniel Radcliffe to get his teeth into; and among the children at least, it is Rupert Grint, as Harry's loyal friend, Ron Weasley, who makes a better fist of a better part. Playing Harry must be a little like playing King Arthur; almost everyone in Malory -- Merlin, Lancelot, Mordred -- has a better part than Arthur. …

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