This long-awaited spinoff from the Harry Potter franchise with a screenplay by J.K. Rowling and David Yates, director of four HP films, at the helm has finally hit the screens. And we were in the cinema last Friday at 10 am to see it. Was it worth the anticipation?
Oh yes. Rowling made the smart decision to take the time and place well away from Hogwarts and has set this adventure in New York during 1926. So we are treated to wonderful 1920s fashions, vintage cars and New York in its heyday before it became gridlocked by traffic. Into this setting shuffles a very diffident Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander fresh off the boat from England, clearly not comfortable dealing with New Yorkers. He is carrying a rather battered suitcase – and it is when the contents of said suitcase inconveniently escape that it all starts to kick off. At the worst possible time, too. For there are increasing tensions between the Maj and Non-maj communities, forcing Madam President of the US wizarding world to get ever more hardline in dealing with forbidden interactions between the two.
There is much here that is comfortably familiar for HP fans – intriguing settings, quirky characters both human and otherwise, fantatical/wrong-headed/power-grabbing antagonists and plenty going on. With the cream of British actors appearing in the extensive cast lists over the years, the acting quality has always been very high – and Redmayne’s portrayal of a shy, sensitive soul fascinated by magical creatures and scoured by years of bullying and/or misunderstanding certainly ticks that box. He is ably supported by Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, along with Katherine Waterston as Tina, a witch-policewoman and her memorably beautiful mind-reading sister, Queenie, played by Alison Studol.
We see the divided nature of the society, with feelings running high as something large and lethal is laying waste to buildings and killing people. The MACUSA, (the Magical Congress of the United States of America) are in a spin with Chief Investigator Percival Graves desperately trying to track down the cause of all the damage. The special effects are amazing – seeing swathes of New York come crashing down in showers of rubble was impressive, but more so was watching them magically go back together again.
All of the above are fabulous – the film wouldn’t be what it is without those components. But for me, the scene stealers were those fantastic beasts. Vicious, naughty, lovelorn or despairing – the creatures look wonderful, the special effects are amazing and I found myself with tears in my eyes over a creature that doesn’t exist at the thought of its extinction… Redmayne’s interaction with them is impressive – he must have spent hours chatting to and stroking green screens, but it was certainly worth it. Halfway through, I recall gripping Himself’s hand and hoping the film wouldn’t end for a very long time and the last time I felt like that about a movie was during The Fellowship of the Ring. Both films took me to another time and place, making me both laugh and cry during the journey and providing me with plenty to think about afterwards. Highly recommended.