“We were strong for each other,” Emma Watson says of her co-stars, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, in the Harry Potter reunion special, Return to Hogwarts. Sky’s programme celebrating 20 years since the first film was released brings together the original cast and crew in a poignant trip down memory lane. In between the fun moments – awkward kiss scenes, actors young and old goofing around on set – there are genuinely profound insights into how the cast dealt with astronomical levels of fame, and what it meant to be a part of a worldwide cultural phenomenon.
We begin, of course, at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Showrunners have clearly gone to great pains to take fans back to exactly why they fell in love with the films in the first place: the lighting in the interview scenes matches that used in the movies, and the actors and directors are surrounded by familiar props. For anyone who grew up reading JK Rowling’s books and with the films – queuing outside bookshops and cinemas at midnight – it’s full of emotional highs and lows. Rather than an “in memoriam” segment, clips of late actors including Richard Griffiths, Alan Rickman and Helen McCrory at their finest on set are interspersed with the rest of the cast, who share their fondest memories. Directors including the exuberant Mike Newell and the thoughtful Alfonso Cuarón demonstrate the unique qualities they brought to their respective films.
Much of the speculation surrounding this reunion had, unfortunately, been to do with how much involvement JK Rowling would have. The author who wrote so beautifully about embracing people because of their differences, not in spite of them, and whose books spoke so powerfully to people who felt like social outcasts, has become associated with a series of controversial remarks about one of the most marginalised groups in the UK: transgender people. The press gleefully reported of how she was being “cancelled” by the very franchise she created and “snubbed” from the reunion.
That’s not the case here. The cast members make sincere comments about how Rowling’s wizarding world impacted on them personally as children, as parents, and as young actors unaware of just how much these films would change their lives. Rowling herself makes brief appearances in pre-recorded interviews from 2019, in which she discusses the search for the right Harry (and the relief upon finding Daniel Radcliffe). While there is, understandably, no mention of the controversy Rowling has embroiled herself in outside of Harry Potter, the discussions of how the films promoted acceptance, tolerance and friendship do seem to take on additional meaning.
Perhaps most surprising is just how open the younger cast are about their experiences, from having crushes on one another to coming close to quitting the franchise. Emma Watson admits to feeling “lonely” as the fame surrounding the trio reached a deafening roar. Later, she recalls how she “fell in love” with her co-star Tom Felton, and while she insists “nothing ever, ever, ever happened romantically”, the moment will undoubtedly spark as much of a frenzy as Friends stars David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston did when they admitted their mutual crushes. Millions of young fans dreamt of being part of Harry Potter’s world; Return to Hogwarts is possibly the closest you’ll ever feel to achieving it.
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