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20 Years Later: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

16 November 21 words: Emma Walsh

It’s the twentieth anniversary of the day that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first graced our screens (yes, we all feel old), so let’s take a look back at how it all began...

Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Running time: 152 minutes

The Harry Potter franchise has become, to all intents and purposes, a British institution. Despite how long it’s been since the first film was released, it’s still very much a part of UK culture (I mean, can you step foot in a Primark anymore without finding a Harry Potter themed item somewhere?). It’s arguably still as popular today as it ever was; we’ve all got some sort of quote that’s been stuck in our head for years (for me, “it’s leviOsa, not leviosA” will never leave), and if we’re honest, it provides one of the easiest Halloween costumes known to man. 

But let’s have a look at the Philosopher’s Stone itself. For those of you who must have been living under a rock for the last twenty years, I’ll give you a brief run-down. Harry Potter (Radcliffe) is the Boy Who Lived. When he was a baby, his parents were murdered by dark wizard Lord Voldemort (Bremmer, in this instance), and he was forced to live with his non-magic family, the neglectful Dursleys. Life was looking pretty bleak for Harry until he turned eleven and suddenly got a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 

From Diagon Alley to Hogwarts itself, we join Harry and his best friends, Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint), through their journey discovering the highs and lows of being a student at the school. But when Harry realises that someone is trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone, he and his friends must put a stop to it, and battle the evil lurking within the castle walls. 

For those of us who have grown up reading the books, being able to see our favourite characters come to life on the big screen is amazing

So why exactly would I give the film top marks? I could honestly rattle on with the answer to that question for hours, but I’ll see if I can condense it a bit, for your sake. The main thing for me is that the first film of the franchise is the epitome of awe-inspiring cinema. It’s our first introduction to wizardry and all things magical, and no matter how many times I watch it, it’s like I’m watching it for the first time. 

The aesthetics of the movie are nothing short of immense, from the old-world castle grounds, to the gorgeous Great Hall (don’t even get me started on how they decorate for Christmas) - the scene where the students first sail up to the castle itself still makes me jealous that I didn’t get that letter when I turned eleven. 

The costumes and special effects also immerse us even more deeply into this magical world - I mean look at the goblins of Gringotts! And with moving staircases, three-headed dogs, and even flying broomsticks courtesy of our first Quidditch experience, the special effects team definitely outdo themselves in giving us as many ‘wow’ moments as they could manage.

Yes, the overall visuals of the films are phenomenal, but let’s not forget about the characters and the acting. For those of us who have grown up reading the books, being able to see our favourite characters come to life on the big screen is amazing, and the idea that a lot of us have grown up alongside these characters as the franchise has progressed is another experience entirely! 

It’s very much one of the most popular franchises of our time, and for so many reasons

With that, the films were always going to hold a special place in our hearts. Take the protagonists; Radcliffe, Watson and Grint represent the key personality traits of their characters really well, despite being child actors. Hermione is the school-obsessed goody-two-shoes who has got the answer to everything; Harry is the brave one whose inquisitiveness often gets him into many a dilemma; and Ron is the friend who never seems totally sure of what’s going on… And let’s not forget Draco Malfoy (Felton), the self-absorbed antagonist of the trio who plays the classic school bully pretty well.

Despite these great performances, I’m sure the younger members of the cast wouldn’t have been able to perform nearly as well without the amazing examples set by actors on set such as the likes of Alan Rickman (because we all low-key want to channel the grandeur of Snape’s cloak swoop), Dame Maggie Smith, and my favourite Dumbledore, Richard Harris. Altogether, the cast is fantastic, all providing different personalities that gel together to help create a film that’s a joy to watch every time for so many reasons.

So, what has the Harry Potter franchise given us? Well, to name a few, theme parks, studio tours, photographic exhibitions (you best believe I’ve been to them all), and God knows how many creative ways to experience the Wizarding World for ourselves and absorb ourselves even further into the franchise. I mean, it’s even taken TikTok by storm since the first lockdown (chanwills0 is a personal favourite I’m going to shamelessly promote if you want a stellar Professor McGonagall impression)! 

It’s very much one of the most popular franchises of our time, and for so many reasons (not nearly enough of which I got the chance to highlight in this review) people around the world love it to pieces. So, celebrate the anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in style; have yourself the most magical movie night a muggle can manage… You know you want to.

Did you know? Alan Rickman was hand picked to play Snape by J.K. Rowling, and received special instructions from her about the character. Rowling even provided him with vital details of Snape's backstory, not revealed until the final novel.

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