Thursday, 30 January 2014

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

"Not to be rude or anything, but this isn't a great time for me to have a house elf in my bedroom!"

Aw, isn't Dobby cute? it's an ominous beginning, though; someone or something is trying to stop Harry going to Hogwarts this year because it's all dangerous and that. And once he gets there he has to deal with notorious Malfoys and racism allegories. This isn't quite as good as the first film, as there are fewer ideas which evoke wonder, but it's also more serious. Perhaps the franchise grows up with its audience. I'm not sure what I think of that.

There's a plot against Harry. But fear not: here are the Weasleys in their flying car to take him to Hogwarts. They're a little odd, Ron's parents. Julie Walters and Mark Williams are firmly working class, Brummie actors and shown to be a little hard up. Yet Arthur seems to be a senior civil servant, and they send their four children to a posh-looking public school. Perhaps it's best not to think on such matters.

Our friends are eventually, after much botheration including a nasty moving tree called a Whomping Willow (!), back at school, and there is, in what will become a tradition, a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, played by Kenneth Branagh, who is something of a smarmy git, and simply must be a baddie, right? Richard Harris, as Dumbledore, looks decidedly ill, as indeed he must have been. Attention is paid to Ginny, Ron's younger sister, which means she's going to be important later. Miriam Margolyes has a delightful part as Professor Sprout, conjuring up a screaming plant creature, as you do.

As with the previous film, once we get past the ominous opening bit, there are some amusing and wondrous scenes showing us the sheer otherness and wonder at Hogwarts before the plot gets properly under way.There's a mysterious and eponymous chamber of secrets under Hogwarts. The Malfoys are obviously baddies. Hermione has (shock horror) Muggle blood.The founder of Slytherin, it seems, was a racist, and it's nice to see that racism and evil are thus shown to be virtually synonymous.

There's another issue dealt with here, in the person of Dobby; slavery. Harry refuses to treat Dobby as a slave, in marked contrast to the Malfoys and their own house elf. This is appropriately simplistic for children, I suppose, but the issue of how House Elf slavery arises in magical society generally is not really addressed.

There's a ghost in the girls' bog, Moaning Myrtle, played by Shirley Henderson, who surely is too old to be playing a schoolgirl. There's also a book in the girls' bog, written, unbeknownst to Harry, by a young Voldemort. But "Mudbloods" in the school are under attack, meaning that it may be closed. Worse, one of the victims is Hermione, who has been turned to stone. Officialdom is, like the law, an ass, and Dumbledore is suspended. Our heroes, recreating Sam and Frodo in Lord of the Rings, have to go into the forest and brave loads of giant spiders. Things unwind; Kenneth Branagh (Lockhart) is the red herring, Harry faces a basilisk, Ginny is saved from dying, and everything is ok, after much drama. There's a feelgood ending as Dobby is freed.

This is still a good film, but rather less fun than the first. Is this a trend that is to continue?

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