Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has turned 20, and I sincerely believe I’ve just aged two decades reading that sentence back.
I was ten years old when the 2001 Chris Columbus movie came out, and – like the majority of pre-teens nationwide – was already four books deep into the wizarding world dreamt up by JK Rowling.
This was an age when kids queued up outside Waterstones for the latest book, donning robes and owly John Lennon glasses as they eagerly anticipated the adventures to come. If I even have an ounce of this sort of patience with my own future kids, I’ll consider myself a bonafide saint.
This truly was a great time to be alive for a young nerd like myself, a girl who read for fun and longed for a series I could chat about easily with my mates. Jacqueline Wilson novels usually did the trick in a pinch, but the epic world-building and endless mysteries of Harry Potter remained unparalleled.
Not until Game of Thrones took over the zeitgeist in 2011 did I so enjoy poring over the ins and outs of a made-up world, exploring its various mystical corners and dark secrets.
When Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out in book form back in 2016, I admittedly felt that old fizz of excitement I once did when a new HP book came out way back when, usually during the lazy days of the summer holidays.
A woman in my mid-twenties by this point, jetting off on holiday with my then partner, I felt no shame whatsoever as I slipped into the airport WHSmith for an unpractically large copy of my own, nostalgic for simpler times when a fantasy book could swallow up my sunny afternoons whole.
So you can imagine my elation heading into the cinema back in November 2001 as a geeky – and yes, bespectacled – young Potter fan. I even wore a headband with stars on it that I thought would somewhat resemble the ceiling of the Great Hall. I was absolutely right.
Although nothing could of course ever live up to the land dreamt up in the plains of readers’ imaginations, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone made for a brilliant, engrossing – and often quite scary – watch.
First of all, it was extraordinarily beautiful to look at, bringing locations such as Hogwarts and Diagon Alley to life with such careful attention to detail. The props looked real and touchable. The wands ready to fire off all sorts of spells. You could feel history and depth and substance.
Swept along on John Williams’ majestic score (I only have to look at one movie frame before I start humming it), the film is more or less faithful to the story and heart of the book, taking us through Harry’s first perilous school year of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
It’s an awe-inspiring watch for young eyes keen to imagine universes far different from their own. But it’s the superb casting choices that really ground Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, anchoring you into a reality where books scream at you and unicorns bleed into forest floors.
The adult cast is quintessentially British, with a series of prestigious names giving voices to the wisdom and sneers previously shaped by the children turning the pages.
Dame Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and – of course – the late, great Alan Rickman gave it their all in every scene, bringing genuine emotional weight amid the three-headed dogs and troll attacks (a term which had a far different meaning back then).
Then of course there was the young cast, with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint making up the core friendship group. Each member of the trio channelled their character remarkably well, and I still chuckle every time at Grint’s cheeky ‘that was bloody brilliant!’
The film was a commercial and critical hit, breaking the record at the time for the highest opening weekend in movie history.
Although the later films admittedly feel a little more interesting and polished upon a rewatch, I’ll always have a place in my heart for the first Harry Potter movie. A film that thrilled me at every turn, and made me more than a little bit nervous around snake tanks at the zoo.
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