Film Reviews / Streaming / Television

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts review (2022)

“I’m not going home, not really…”

Like a mix of many, my first journey into Harry Potter was the Philosopher’s Stone, the 2001 film directed by Chris Columbus and I was immediately hooked, and eager to discover more. Based on the 1997 book by J.K. Rowling, the film screenplay was written by Steve Kloves, who adapted all the HP films aside from the Order of the Phoenix, and that first film made a worldwide impact beyond expectation.

It’s now been 20 years since then, and while the time feels equally that long and barely any time at all, it set off an astonishing world creation that Rowling, Warner Bros and the entire production team continued to build upon. With it, they made a timeless, iconic part of our culture that came alive and this retrospective, airing on New Year’s Day on Sky and NOW, is a genuine delight.

Not only does Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts feature our key three: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, discussing their personal memories from the filming of the entire series, they’re also very open and honest regarding the impact on their personal lives and their relationships to each other along the way. We also hear from the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Tom Felton, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Mark Williams, Bonnie Wright, Toby Jones, Alfred Enoch, Matthew Lewis, and Evanna Lynch, among others. Coming in at just over 1 hour 40 minutes, there is plenty of time to reminisce and it’s a joy listening in on the story behind the game-changer.

Every film is represented, but we begin at the beginning with Columbus and Radcliffe discussing how Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone really happened. Columbus admits it was his daughter that harangued him into reading it, and that he could visualise the world once he was addicted as so many. Early on we hear the stories of how they casted the lead three but, I want to make it clear, this is from their own memories – this isn’t just a documentary that recalls the obvious, and it’s really great to hear it so directly.

It’s particularly funny as well, including the discovery that Daniel was chosen because of his sweetness but also because of his ‘haunted’ look, plus how well Emma and Rupert fitted their characters, and we know how much they both loved who they wanted to portray. Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts offers us their screentest together, and the producers, directors and actors discuss how they’ve moved different ‘possible’ other actors around but these three had the chemistry. It’s also entertaining to hear how little control there was on-set in those first two films, because everyone was excited to just be involved, and kids were allowed to be kids, it kept the production fresh and effortless when it mattered.

Set into four chapters, there’s a lot of depth and celebration as well. Under specific sub-sections we delve into Creating the Impossible and Stuart Craig’s outstanding production design on every film, Weasley Family Values, Alongside the Malfoys and there’s so many more. I also enjoyed listening to the younger actors talking about being kids and working with acting Royalty but not really knowing who they were at the beginning. However, when Gary Oldman arrives, the story from Dan and Emma is particularly entertaining, plus how much Dan looked up to him, and how much he learned along the way.

And then, from those early days, we move into the darker (but excellent) days of Potter and hear from everyone how they felt the difference on set, in the scale and in their performances. I loved the chat between Gary Oldman and Radcliffe, and how the latter reveals to Gary that only Alan Rickman really knew what was to come for his character, because he’d secretly asked Rowling and – to be fair – he’d need to for his journey. We get stories from director Mike Newell, and the twins discuss what they did to him that day, plus a whole host of understanding regarding genuine nerdy-natures and awkwardness due to hormones across the set. It’s also lovely to hear from Tom Felton and Emma on their real-life relationship, which is more natural and comforting, and again – so sincere.

That’s not all either, and I won’t go into spoilers, but you’ll love Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes, discussing her playful psychosis and his pure power and intensity. There’s also a moment where Emma talks about her decision to nearly leave the franchise, as she was finding it incredibly tough and separating, plus Rupert says he also had similar thoughts because of the increased fame and pressure but, of course, both incredibly happy they saw it through to the end.

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary Reunion Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe CR: HBO Max

There’s a poignant in memoriam, when you think we’ve lost the likes of Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Richard Harris, Richard Griffiths and Helen McCrory in recent years, as Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts offers a momentary and welcome tribute and how their loss still sends ripples through the cast and crew today. Then, finally, we join Watson, Grint and Radcliffe all together – as they’ve spent the rest of the documentary in various ‘interviewing each other’ setups with discussions galore and how much this journey meant, deep within their lives forever.

This is a fantastic way to revisit this iconic franchise, and while it’s occasionally self-congratulatory, I think why not! If you’re a fan, just sit back and enjoy.

Insightful. Emotional. Reflective. Wonderful.

Watch Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts on New Year’s Day exclusively on Sky and streaming service NOW.

NOW members can watch the TV specials with a NOW Entertainment Membership and enjoy all ten movies with a NOW Cinema Membership.

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