‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: Cast Breakdown (part II of III)

Here, contributing writer William Buhagiar continues in his no-holds-barred analysis of the impressive cast of the “Harry Potter” film series. Yesterday, we had Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, and the late Richard Harris. In this 2nd part, Buhagiar looks at four additional characters — and the actors who play them. Our special “Harry Potter Retrospective” will end with the next post, in Part III of the Cast Breakdown. With the final film due out in just a matter of weeks, I remain very excited to read what Buhagiar has to say about it, here on The Lantern. — P.E.

Professor Minerva McGonagall

Played by: Maggie Smith
Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A+

Dame Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts and Head of Gryffindor House, is undoubtedly the most perfect casting decision made throughout the series. It seems as if the part was written specially for her – a woman who is very stern, intimidating and disciplinary, but also very warm, likeable and compassionate.

Whenever I read the books, I always have very separate images in my head of the characters than those of the actors who play them. However, in the case of Professor McGonagall, Maggie Smith is always playing the bespectacled Transfiguration professor, as she is unquestionably the most remarkable choice for the role.

What I find most exciting is that the best of Professor McGonagall is still yet to come, as some of her finest moments will take place in Deathly Hallows: Part II, when she begins to organize the final battle against the Death Eaters and sets up the defenses around the boundaries of the castle. According to the MuggleNet staff (who were very privileged in seeing a test screening of the impending finale in Chicago), McGonagall has a very respectable number of applause-worthy moments – rightfully so, I say, as she is certainly amongst the best and the most heroic of characters in the ‘Potter’ universe.

Lucius Malfoy

Played by: Jason Isaacs
Performance: A
Screen Treatment: A

This is another casting decision and performance that I admit, I have no complaints about. I always thought of Jason Isaacs as a great actor, and he is usually seen playing villainous characters, so it seems a no-brainer to cast him as the aristocratic and despicably prejudiced Death Eater Lucius Malfoy?

Much like Ralph Fiennes, Isaacs is phenomenal at playing detestably evil characters. In Chamber of Secrets, Lucius Malfoy (father to Draco, Harry’s school rival) is at the epicenter of the dangerous events unfolding within the school, thus making him the essential antagonist of the second film. This may seem outrageous and perhaps a bit blasphemous, but I am very curious as to the idea of Isaacs and Fiennes switching roles, and watching the former assume the role of the Dark Lord. There is nothing disappointing or underwhelming in his performance as Malfoy, it is simply a matter of curiosity, as I think he would have played Voldemort beautifully.

The filmmakers properly conveyed the “rationing” of the villains; what I mean by this is that rather vile characters (like Malfoy), who seem horrible, are the prime antagonists in the earlier installments. Once Lord Voldemort returns, however, these characters that we felt were horrific and villainous now seem absolutely wholesome by comparison – this technique has actually been complimented by Isaacs himself, praising Jo Rowling’s ingenious style of creating a sort-of “pyramid of villainy.”

In Deathly Hallows: Part I we begin to see the tip of the iceberg concerning Lucius’s fall from grace in Voldemort’s circle. Having once been one of You-Know-Who’s most trusted servants, Lucius Malfoy, who is present in the opening scene of the film, could not appear more different than when we are first introduced to him in Chamber of Secrets. Not only is his general appearance substantially less flattering: his hair is greasy and unkempt, his eyes sunken and shadowy, etc, but there is also no sign of the familiar, sneering arrogance he carried that he so obviously passed onto his son. The storyline of the Malfoys is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, considering the Malfoy family’s intent was once to gain as much power as possible within Voldemort’s circle; as Voldemort’s power begins to peak, however, and the Dark Lord begins to display outward contempt for them, humiliating and degrading Lucius whenever possible, their motivation dramatically changes from a loyalty to Voldemort’s establishment of his new regime into a desperate struggle to remain together, and to ultimately survive the war.

Dolores Umbridge

Played by: Imelda Staunton
Performance: B-
Screen Treatment: C

Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic and High Inquisitor of Hogwarts School will never fail to introduce herself without that very lengthy title before her. She is a downright awful, infuriatingly menacing character — one I wish I could personally slap in the face. She projects a false image of girlish sweetness, and hides a savagely sadistic disposition to abuse her power and torment students.

Casting Imelda Staunton, though a fine actress, was the first red flag that the character would not be translated to the screen properly. Why was this decision a red flag? Not just because Staunton looks nothing like the enormously fat, toad-like woman described in the book, but because she is also simply too likeable. Everything about Umbridge is meant to infuriate us, as she represents such an enormous problem Harry has to overcome: the Ministry’s refusal to believe Voldemort has returned and their very public attempts to defame Harry and Dumbledore as much as possible. Umbridge is the ultimate embodiment of a flawed institution, and though she is present mostly in Order of the Phoenix, she certainly leaves her mark in Deathly Hallows: Part I, as the newly-appointed Head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, overseeing the trials of the Muggle-borns and imprisoning them for “theft of magic by force.”

Perhaps, being that Umbridge plays her most prominent role in Order of the Phoenix, which was absolutely the biggest a-hole train wreck of a ‘Potter’ movie; her screen treatment is woefully incompetent. Rather than being the shocking, cruel, wretched and infuriating witch Jo Rowling so aptly created, the movie Umbridge is merely an inconvenience.

Sirius Black

Played by: Gary Oldman
Performance: B-
Screen Treatment: D

Sirius Black is such a fantastic character, and Gary Oldman is an equally fantastic actor – it’s truly a shame that Sirius Black (on screen) is such a hollow, insignificant character, one that lacks any of the endearingly flawed qualities of Rowling’s creation. We’re first introduced to Sirius in Prisoner of Azkaban, and throughout most of the novel/movie, we are under the impression that he was a traitor to James and Lily Potter by selling their whereabouts to Lord Voldemort, and that he is now after Harry. Eventually, his innocence is revealed and he re-assumes his role of godfather to Harry.

Sirius Black was a very exciting character to read, as he was very unpredictable, hot-headed and always entertaining. The only member of his family for generations to rebel against the insanely strict “pure-bloods-only” mentality and placed in Gryffindor House, Sirius was the best friend of James Potter and a beloved father figure to Harry.

In the movies, I find it tremendously difficult to really sympathize with Sirius. There is not much to his character, and nowhere in the films are there moments where Sirius surprises us or is as radically hot-tempered as his literary counterpart. Jo Rowling wrote Sirius Black as such a vividly human and multi-dimensional character that was never dull and whom I always enjoyed reading. In the films, however, Sirius just seems to be one of many in the series of characters improperly staged.

NEXT!!! The Final Posting in Magic Lantern’s “Harry Potter Retrospective” Looks at the Following Actors:

Helena Bonham-Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange)
Tom Felton
(Draco Malfoy)

David Thewlis (Remus Lupin) and
the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, & Rupert Grint

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One Response to ‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: Cast Breakdown (part II of III)

  1. Rowling has admitted to spending time in therapy before the success of the Potter series, living in poverty and
    recovering from a failed marriage. Among some of the
    choice responses:. HP7 or, Harry Potter 7 or
    HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS slammed the box office this weekend.

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