Directed by Chris Columbus, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone is the first film in J.K. Rowling‘s seven-book Harry Potter series of novels to be adapted onto the big screen. The story follows a seemingly ordinary boy, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), who, on his 11th birthday, is visited by a half-giant, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Soon discovering that he is famous in the Wizarding World for surviving an attack by the evil Lord Voldemort when Harry was only a baby, Harry must fulfil his destiny and prove his worth, with the help of his new friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson).
The following post is a review of the film only. You can read my review of the book on its own here and my comparison of the film to the book here.
Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone may not have the same dark and more complex qualities of the more recent instalments, but for a first film introducing us to a whole new magical world with fresh-faced 11-year-old actors, this first chapter in a fantastic franchise does exactly what it is expected of it. It’s nostalgic, imaginative, and it’s filled with atmosphere; the precise definition of what a children’s fantasy should be.
With the original books being enjoyed by people of all ages, this film definitely has a younger audience in mind. If the franchise carried on with this innocence and simplicity, then it might not have kicked off the ground as well as it did, but for a first film Chris Columbus knew exactly what he was doing. Columbus and his writers take the time to set the characters up properly, developing their friendships and detailing their histories, and to tell the story right.
How does he do this? By sticking closely to the book. The film adaptation does have its tweaks, all of which I will list further on down this post, but overall it is a brilliant adaptation, with many of the scenes coming to life on-screen exactly as I had imagined them when reading it.
The story has a bit of everything, there are friendships, rivalries, quests, magic, jokes, scares, and even a game of wizarding sport. The film has some of the most memorable quotes out of the whole franchise, and the enjoyment shown on all of the cast’s faces makes this an incredibly likeable film. And let’s not forget John Williams‘ score, a significant quality that really helped to make this franchise what it is today.
Watching the film fifteen years after its release, some of the effects are incredibly ropey and the acting of the younger members of the cast is questionable at times, but these are all qualities we must forgive, because it made way for one of the best franchises of all time. Even though this instalment is the first of the franchise to feel aged, and seeing how the series gets better and better as it goes on, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone will remain an enchanting classic, nonetheless.
The younger cast obviously needed some time to get used to their roles at this point but, in the end, they make a phenomenal casting ensemble. I’ve always felt that Daniel Radcliffe was miscast as Harry, although he did grow on me, but Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are brilliant as Ron and Hermione, as is Tom Felton as Draco, Matthew Lewis as Neville, Oliver and James Phelps as George and Fred Weasley, Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, Alfred Enoch as Dean Thomas, Luke Youngblood as Lee Jordan, Sean Biggerstaff as Oliver Wood, Jamie Waylett as Vincent Crabbe, Josh Herdman as Gregory Goyle, and Devon Murray as Seamus Finnigan.
We don’t get to see a lot of all of these characters in this first film, but it’s amazing to see them grow into their roles, and it’s this film that we have to thank for that. The casting really is perfect, and even the older – more experienced and recognisable – actors are just as enthusiastic about their characters as the first time actors.
Despite my preference towards Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in the later films, Richard Harris, who plays the character for the first two films, is perfect for the role at this point of the franchise. As the franchise goes on, I don’t think Harris would have kept up with the role as well as Gambon did, but I’m so happy that Harris got to play the role for at least two of the films before he sadly passed away. For the almost fragile but excitable character that Dumbledore is in this first film, Harris fits the role well.
My most favourite casting of all is Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. He is absolutely incredible, especially in this first film, and I have loved watching his character develop. Another fantastic actor who has sadly left us since filming the whole of this franchise.
There are a lot of big names cast in this film, but it always surprises me that Ian Hart was cast as Professor Quirrell, since he’s not as well-known as the rest of the cast. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have asked for anybody else to play the character because he does it so well. And then there’s Hagrid, who’s played by Robbie Coltrane. They really couldn’t have got it any more right.
I wouldn’t normally list every other cast member at this point, but I really do feel that they’re all worthy of a mention, so let’s also applaud the performances from Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia, Harry Melling as Dudley, Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon, Geraldine Somerville as Lily Potter, Adrian Rawlins as James Potter, Julie Walters as Molly Weasley, John Hurt as Mr. Ollivander, Warwick Davis as Goblin Bank Teller and Professor Flitwick, David Bradley as Argus Filch, Zoë Wanamaker as Madame Hooch, and John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick.
The film may feel quite dated nowadays, but what a brilliant film this was to introduce us to one of the best franchises of all time. You can’t help but love it for that, and you’ll certainly be left wanting more from these characters.