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Feature: Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Fashion Police?

Hogwarts anti-evil gang

The kids are growing up, and they’ve got a new director... which seems to mean there’s changes in store at Hogwarts for The Prisoner of Azkaban

After two movies, the Harry Potter films have established a style of their own, thanks to Chris Columbus’s direction. But as the first pictures from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban emerge, it looks as if things are about to change. In place of robes and blazers come hooded sweatshirts and all the gear of the modern teenager.

Under Columbus’s control, Harry Potter has lived in an environment where everything is very slightly magic. Even the everyday world of the Muggles has a slightly heightened feel to it, with everything exaggerated to create a stylized reality. Little Snoring is suburbia taken to extremes, and the whole atmosphere harks back to past decades. With their tank-tops, pullovers and Uncle Dudley’s moustache, the Dursleys look as if they’ve stepped right out of the 1950s, and that’s equally true of the Weasleys’ flying Ford Anglia. However poorly paid a junior civil servant working for an underfunded ministry might be, he’d be unlikely to drive an Anglia in the 1990s. There are almost none of them left on the road, and those that remain are the treasured possessions of motoring enthusiasts who wouldn’t possibly sell them on to some low-grade public servant.

Of course, this all comes from the books, which create an intoxicating mix of old and new that echoes Narnia as much as Indiana Jones right from the start. Indeed an awful lot of the books’ imagery is drawn very consciously from the 1950s, even though JK Rowling’s too young to remember that time herself. The Hogwarts Express in particular belongs to the golden age of steam trains when the Flying Scotsman departed from a few platforms to the east of platform nine and three-quarters, and you can still see echoes of those days in the British movies of the 1950s, particularly the glorious Ealing comedies. Perhaps the notion of a steam train as the most magical form of travel was burnt into the future author’s imagination by endless – and well-deserved – television screenings of these classics during her childhood?

If so, it would explain something about her portrait of London as a maze of warrens and side-streets in the tradition of Dickens. That also comes, perhaps, from the Ealing comedies, where isolated little communities with their own ways of life could lurk around unexpected corners in movies like Passport to Pimlico and The Ladykillers. In their vision of London, you could believe that somewhere like Diagon Alley was hidden behind a maze of nooks and crannies, even without the power of magic.

But it’s hidden away from normal life, and by making Little Snoring something of a Fantasy land, Chris Columbus’s approach perhaps lost a little bit of the contrast between the magical world and muggle reality, so that the trip through the platform pillar into Platform nine and three-quarters lost a little of its impact.

by Diane McGinn

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Photo © Warner Bros
Feature © Visual Imagination 2003. Not for reproduction

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