From left to right: Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe sitting in the Gryffindor Common Room Twitter/anomi_esse

The screen is dark, a few twinkling notes chime, and the lights come up on the swinging pendulum of the Hogwarts clock tower. Exactly what you would expect from a reunion special. Crafting the opening credits on a remake has become a hackneyed art form for contemporary editors, from Star Wars: The Force Awakens to West Side Story, even the Friends Reunion. All you need is a fantastic score, a slow fade-in from black and the excitement of an audience only there for one thing: nostalgia. Nonetheless, there is a special sensation you get as those opening credits roll, a tingling down your spine and a grin you can’t suppress. Any franchise fan will recognise the feeling.

The 100-minute run of Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts has the cast return to the set of the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden. We see the Great Hall, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Potions Lab and Dumbledore’s Office all decked out as once before. We are powerfully reminded of the magic of make-believe. Apart from all the glitz however, you cannot help but notice how attractive those chubby-cheeked ten-year-olds grew up to be! Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas) is dashing and tall, Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) is still the epitome of a rugged ‘glow-up’, Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) is elegant and bright-eyed. What a cast! In fact, this is one of the key takeaways: the sense of a playground for the elite of the British screen.

“We are powerfully reminded of the magic of make-believe”

Throughout the special, we see the now-grown up actors reflect upon what it was like working with their fellow star-studded castmates. Role models to the then littluns, the likes of Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort) and Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) guided them through the world of professional acting, demonstrating how to work on a set collaboratively. We hear how Julie Walters and Mark Williams (Molly and Arthur Weasley) would always play the Mum and Dad of the group, Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) would do bits to make the cast laugh, and Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) would improvise new levels of in-character cruelty to terrify the kids. It would seem that the perhaps crucial ingredient of the films was not punctuality or days of rehearsals, but the off-screen playfulness amongst actors. It makes total sense, then, when Daniel Radcliffe speaks of his adoration for and gratitude towards them.

Daniel Radcliffe (right) alongside co-star Helena Bonham Carter (left) reflecting on moments shared between the young actors and the veterans of the British silver screenTwitter/RekomenByAsrul

The special is divided into four chapters, each focusing on a pair of films. Each pair is then introduced by excerpts from the beloved Stephen Fry audiobooks. This structure cleverly allows us to take a look at each directorial era. Chris Columbus stands out as the cherished kickstarter. Alfonso Cuarón makes an appearance that is exciting for any film fan. Mike Newell’s exuberance as a director is also lauded, while David Yates takes a backseat, the steady blockbuster confidence of the last four films being allowed to speak for themselves.

“It is trying to get at the idea that these stories and characters last forever, even past the hustle and bustle of celebrity gossip”

Everyone you were hoping to see is there. For the most part. Contrary to early claims that J.K. Rowling would be absent, her superimposed image, taken from interviews in 2019, discusses the difficulty of finding the perfect Harry. It’s a slightly comical absence that the special tries to glide past quickly. However, when Coltrane talks about “the power of writing” and archival footage shows euphoric crowds spilling onto streets at book releases in the early ’00s, the absence of ‘Jo’ is rib-tickling at best, awkward at worst. It tries to get at the idea that these stories and characters last forever, even past the hustle and bustle of celebrity and gossip. Yet, this feels undermined when they fixate on this very celebrity fever swirling around Emma Watson. Evidently the new star of the show, she appears first in the title sequence. Watson is the new female-lead, replacing Rowling and Radcliffe as the face of a modern Harry Potter.

Emma Watson's name appearing first in the special's title sequenceTwitter/dearadolin

Nevertheless, the reunion delivers on all the decadently honied parts of a feel-good holiday movie. That is, goo, giggles and good memories. It is like looking at your mum’s photo album from twenty years ago. It is saved from the saccharine by the sincerity of the cast’s feelings. Their constant praise of one another could appear self-congratulatory but instead is an endearing hint at the mutual respect and affection they evidently share. True, the special is largely composed of anecdotes that have been told time and again, but a few sweet titbits that make you chuckle are scattered evenly enough throughout to keep you interested. Yet for Potter fans, relatively little of the film will be new. Rupert Grint at one point says, noting how it seems that little time has passed since the last film was released in 2011, that “it doesn’t feel like we deserve a reunion yet”. After the warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia has faded, one might have to wonder if Ron was right all along.


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