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Looking through the pensive: Reflections on the Harry Potter 20th anniversary special

| Thursday, January 20, 2022

Claire Kirner | The Observer

This special begins with nostalgic shots of the actors in classic London settings — Emma Watson perusing a cozy, old book store and Matthew Lewis riding down Bond Street in a sleek black hackney carriage. The actors unsuspectingly find their own Hogwarts letters inviting them to the reunion next to their cup of Earl Grey, or in the ornate novel Watson opens up. We are taken back to the movies as the Weasley family is gathering on Platform 9-3/4 all dressed in perfectly styled London winter fashion. The cast arrives at the Great Hall where the most stunning ball is in progress. While the cast looks significantly older (and shorter, in Hagrid’s case) than they did 20 years ago, the magic remains. And to all you Dramione shippers: While my heart melted at Emma and Tom’s very passionate hug, the two actors spent a solid three minutes of the special explaining how they are like siblings. 

The cast comes together in the Great Hall, which has been transformed into a modern Yule Ball — tables covered in ornate desserts as couples dance to one of the best soundtracks in movie history. While the special is focused on the reunion of the cast and the stories behind the camera, the set design and costuming were executed seamlessly. Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe look stunning in well-tailored outfits that follow the color scheme of the preserved movie sets they now sit in. This mashup of the modern and fantasy world creates a special viewing experience.

The overall structure of the special is broken into four chapters, with two movies in each chapter. Within these chapters, the actors and the three directors of the films reminisce about their journeys and memories throughout the series. The chapters show the shift in tone and subject matter over the course of the eight movies, beginning with a beautiful story of belonging and concluding with the last two movies that center on war and death. Not only does the movie subject matter evolve, but so does the “Golden Trio.” We see Watson, Grint and Radcliffe shift from child actors to adults as they learn from British acting royalty such as Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) and Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall). My favorite chapter was the second, which focused on the third and fourth movies and took place during the height of the Golden Trio’s transition into puberty. The actors fondly discuss their awkward stages and the experience of having crushes on set. Simultaneously, they were living out their teenage insecurities on screen in “The Goblet of Fire” while filming the Yule Ball scenes, the wizarding world’s equivalent to prom. 

In light of her recent transphobic tweets, J.K. Rowling was not featured in the special. However, some clips from the studio tour’s video of her are included. The creators of the special make the conscious choice to celebrate the movies based on her books, but not her harmful and problematic actions on social media. 

Despite the adorable camcorder clips of the trio on the Quidditch pitch, there is a more serious side of the special, wherein the actors recognize the trauma of childhood stardom. The trio opened up about questioning their own identities, as their characters had become such a large part of themselves. Pretending to be someone else for your formative years had such a powerful impact that Emma Watson even considered leaving the franchise altogether. This, compiled with the added pressure of being a woman in the film industry, had lasting effects, as the actress has continued to consider ending her acting career in recent years. 

Harry Potter has been my escapist paradise since my mom started reading “The Sorcerer’s Stone” to me when I was little. Since their creation, these books and movies have a lasting impact, and this story continues to be passed down. This anniversary special is so unique in that we are able to connect to both the characters and the actors who portray them on screen.

From “the click” the Golden Trio all felt when camera testing for the first time, our world has never been the same. There’s beauty in the fact that so many people can share a love for this series and the magic it brings to our lives.

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