Nothing in the fictional world has ever had as magical an impact on all of us as J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. With nearly 20 years having passed since the first book was released and fifteen years since the first movie adaptation hit the big screen, Rowling’s wizarding world remains firmly planted in our hearts. Now with the brand new installment Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them bringing back the enchantment that surrounded our collective childhood, what better time than this to take a journey into the past where the magic first began with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Starting the series over from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, if you’ve been away long enough, is like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in years (but still remember like you saw them only yesterday). Chris Columbus’ visualisation of the first Harry Potter book is about as close to the written counterparts as any of the films get. It’s a near-perfect recreation of the main events in J.K Rowling’s novel and that’s exactly why it works so well as the introductory film. The movie doesn’t assume we already know what’s coming; it eases us into the magical world slowly, alongside Harry himself, as though we too are being told for the first time that we’re leaving the muggle world behind… that we too have just been accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The story of The Boy Who Lived isn’t one that needs reiterating – it’s a tale that’s ingrained into our memories forever; a tale I probably know better than my own. Professor McGonagall was right when she told us “this boy will be famous. There won’t be a child in our world who doesn’t know his name.” Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is a name that is known the world over and it’s a name that belongs to a small, bespectacled, unassuming child who lives in a cupboard under the stairs and who saved the world from evil when he was only a baby. For children and adults alike, Harry is a pint-sized hero with the courage and loyalty that lies within every true Gryffindor.
There are many moments in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that can still stagger us, but one of the most significant is undoubtedly the beginning scene. As Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris) emerges from the woods at the edge of Privet Drive and extinguishes the light with a device we would one day come to know as a Deluminator, Columbus pushes the contrast between the magical and muggle worlds with subtlety rather than going straight for the wands and spells. There are no overly-flashy special effects or attempts to push for ostentation in the opening scene, but the magic seems all the more real for it. Everything is refined and kept to a minimum, from the use of the Put-Outer to Professor McGonagall’s transformation from cat to person via only shadows cast on a wall.
The start of the film isn’t the only earth-shattering visual moment Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has to offer us, however. No matter how many times you’ve seen Harry go through the brick wall at the back of The Leaky Cauldron and step into Diagon Alley, it never loses its charm. His delight at each new discovery, from Ollivanders to Gringotts, is palpable and infectious. Nothing compares to the first glimpse of Hogwarts though. Looming over the moonlit Great Lake, the castle is magnificent. It should appear threatening and ominous, but John Williams score swells at all the right moments and the glimpse of sheer wonder on the faces of all the first years as they float across the lake on enchanted boats tell us all we need to know. Hogwarts is home. There is a reverence lent to every shot we get of the sprawling Gothic building and its interior; a warmth within its stone walls where ghosts roam and the pictures and staircases move as they please. Like our hero, by the end of the film we know that Hogwarts will be somewhere we return to; a place we miss and a home we long for – with the final lines of dialogue saying it more aptly than anyone else ever could:
Even with visuals that leave us spellbound from beginning to end, the most flawless part of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the casting. Charming and natural in their roles, each of the three child leads bring something special to their roles and their on-screen friendship is one that outshines any other like it. It is the adult actors however – the who’s who of British talent – that push the film into resolute perfection. Robbie Coltrane makes a perfect warm-hearted, ‘big-boned’ Hagrid, with his overwhelming fondness for Harry etched into every moment they share together, and Maggie Smith’s performance as the sharp, sometimes scary Professor McGonagall is spot on. The two standouts from the cast have got to be Alan Rickman and Richard Harris though. Rickman’s portrayal of the potions master Severus Snape is as close to the written character as possible, no one else could have played the role better, and Richard Harris absolutely stole our hearts as the headmaster of Hogwarts. His Dumbledore was pure magic; endlessly kind, funny, whimsical and “the epitome of goodness,” just as J.K Rowling had intended him to be.
Without a doubt, Harry Potter’s story is one that defined a generation. It marked us out. We were the Potter kids – still are, to be honest. Fifteen years later and we all still laugh, grin and cry like we did when we watched the story unfold for the first time. Because we grew as Harry and his friends did, going back to the beginning is like traveling back to when we ourselves were young – when good conquered evil and friendship was all you needed to make it through the toughest of obstacles. There is a sense of true magic at the core of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; the kind of magic that will never die for us, no matter how much time has passed.
Here’s to hoping the Fantastic Beasts saga that’s set to unfold over the course of the next few years will live up to the legacy left behind by Harry Potter and his friends.