The Harry Potter
franchise is proving to be an ideal vehicle for the advertisement of actors with accents. There is a reason, of course, that so many talented pros find their way into the Harry Potter franchise. The first two films had to be held up on its foundation by such big time actors as Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and Maggie Smith. After all, the most important parts in the first film were played by relatively inexperienced and completely unknown kids.
It showed. Here we are in the fourth film and Daniel Radcliffe is still trying to turn Harry Potter into an interesting character in his own right. Rupert Grint meanwhile has blossomed into a young comedic actor with terrific timing. Tom Felton has gotten stuck playing a stock villain in the role of Draco, who might as well be twirling a Snidely Whiplash mustache with every line; the fact that Draco is still enjoyable is a testament to his young talent.
But the true miracle of the kid actors has to be Emma Watson who has taken Hermione from one of the most annoying characters in recent years in the first two films and done something amazing in the last two. She has actually managed to make Miss Granger almost as interesting as the adult characters who surround the whiz kids.
But it is the adult actors in the Harry Potter franchise that really makes these movies stand out. I’m not a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think the only thing those movies are good for are curing insomnia. And when I think of the talent wasted in those films, it’s appalling. The Harry Potter movies, on the other hand, give plum parts to plum actors and these guys rarely disappoint.
The most recent additions are Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson. Although Hollywood has tried to turn Fiennes into a romantic lead, it’s obvious that this man’s talent lies in finding his dark side. While his title role in The English Patient isn’t necessarily a villain, that guy has enough problems going to make it impossible to declare him a hero. Clearly, Fiennes is the guy who should have played Anakin Skywalker in the prequel had it been made on the heels of the first trilogy.
Fiennes gave what I consider the best performance of the 90s in Schindler’s List and it’s not a big step to go from playing Amon Goeth to Lord Voldemart. I look forward to his having more screen time in the last three films, but while he’s on screen in Goblet of Fire, he’s creepily fascinating. The promise is there for a movie villain far more terrifying than Darth Vader, if nowhere near as horrifying as Amon Goeth.
Miranda Richardson’s comic timing is well known to any fan of the Blackadder TV series and her turn as Rita Skeeter provides what little comic relief there is this darkest entry of the Harry Potter franchise. Just as her Queen Elizabeth was hopeless self-centered in Blackadder, so is her Rita Skeeter. One looks forward to her return as well. For those less well acquainted with Richardson’s dramatic talents, look no further than The Crying Game. While she’s missing in action for the middle of the film, she is relentlessly brilliant in the beginning and ending sections of this magnificent movie.
Although Gary Oldman didn’t have his best part as the prisoner of Azkaban, this is an actor who makes even the most underwritten roles comes alive. Probably best known for his performance as Sid Vicious in Sid & Nancy, Oldman has given a string of terrific performances in films.
His Dracula in the Francis Coppola version of that story remains for me the definitive performance of that role and, remember, Dracula is the most filmed character in the history of movies, so that’s a pretty big compliment. For something really offbeat, take a chance at the video store next time and rent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In this film, you get a chance to see Oldman’s comedic talents, which run quite deep.
If you were to ask me who is the best film actress of the past twenty years I wouldn’t have to think twice. It’s Emma Thompson, who has proven herself as capable of deep drama as she is of slapstick comedy. There literally seems to be nothing this woman can’t do. She played Trelawney in the third Harry Potter film and her presence was genuinely missed in the fourth. Thompson’s wacky, new-age professor provided much needed comedy relief from the relentlessly dark story of Sirius Black and we can only hope she returns in the later films.
If not, however, check out her Oscar-winning performance in Howard’s End, one of the best movies of the 90s. Or check out her Oscar-nominated performance in Sense and Sensibility. Or, and I NEVER recommend a Schwarzenegger film under normal circumstances, but she is hilarious in Junior, where Arnie plays a pregnant man. Gee, a man whose English is barely understandable, playing a man who gets pregnant, and in real life he’s elected Governor of the most populous state in the union by belonging to a political party that belives entertainers are better seen than heard. Only in America, and that ain’t a compliment.
Probably the best performance so far in the Harry Potter franchise belongs to Thompson’s ex-husband, Kenneth Branagh. His Gilderoy Lockhart is so full of himself and so cluelessÃ¢Â?Â¦so undeservedly arrogantÃ¢Â?Â¦and so perfectly realized that one may be tempted to wonder if Branagh wasn’t somehow channeling George W. Bush.
There are certainly a tremendous number of similarities between Lockhart and Bush. Branagh is an actor with a resume and range almost as impressive as his ex-wife. For more proof of his terrific comic timing I recommend Much Ado About Nothing, also starring Thompson and which Branagh directed. This is a Shakespeare movie for those who don’t like Shakespeare. Branagh surrounds himself with terrific actors-and also Keanu Reeves-and outshines them all, except for maybe Thompson. Their scenes together are crackle with chemistry.
Robbie Coltrane’s big, lovable Hagrid is a far cry from his television detective in the series Cracker. “Fitz” Fitzgerald was anything but lovable, but remains proof that you need not sacrifice characterization in order to make a great crime show. American television producers should take note. The current rage among American TV are those crime stories that focus on the how instead of the who. I can’t tell them apart.
I defy anyone to confuse Cracker with another show, and watching the way Coltrane’s character unravels the mystery is far more interesting than watching those Law & Order guys through the two-way window when they’re questioning the suspect.
Alan Rickman’s Snape is the most interesting character in the series, as far I’m concerned. Is he good or bad or what? We probably won’t find out for sure until the last movie. Frankly, if he turns out to save Harry, I wouldn’t be surprised. If he turns out to get killed by Harry, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Rickman is always watchable, no matter what he’s doing. Or listenable, for that matter, for anyone who’s watched Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, you know what I’m talking about. If you really want to see his range, however, pick up Sense and Sensibility. He’s truly heartbreaking in this rare movie in which he’s not playing a partly bad guy. Love Actually is another Rickman pick, but make sure you put the kids away when you watch this one.
Maggie Smith. Well, pretty much whatever movie you see in you’ll be seeing a true pro at work. So take a chance and get something from the 60s or 70s. Still, if you want to see what film acting is all about, I have just thre words for you: Miss Jean Brodie.
Michael Gambon. I’ve got three other words for you: The Singing Detective. And I don’t mean the miserable remake with Robert Druggie, Jr. I mean the British miniseries. If you can find it, then get it and enjoy it. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
There are still a few actors with accents that haven’t yet made it into the Harry Potter franchise. I’ve got my own wish list: Daniel Day Lewis, Stephen Rea, Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle. There’s still plenty of time and plenty of roles.