Tag Archives: Harry Potter

In Memoriam: Helen McCrory’s Top 4 Roles

By Joan Amenn

The loss of Helen McCrory so tragically young is a punch to the gut for all who admired her work as an actor of rare talent. The following is a very subjective listing of favorites from her film roles, although it should be noted that she was just as astonishing on the stage as the screen.

Peaky Blinders (2014-): Aunt Polly Gray is an iconic portrayal of a woman made of steel. The series is set at the turn of the twentieth century but Polly would be perfectly comfortable living in the twenty first. No one could enter or leave a scene like McCrory and how she was dressed by the costume designers of the show was stunning. From her furs and jewels to her men’s wear styled suits, she drew all eyes on the screen to her. As a key member of the Shelby clan, she could stare down her own nephew, Tommy (Cillian Murphy) as well as Italian mobster Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody). But perhaps Polly’s greatest scene is her final confrontation with Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill). Their electricity together leaves a viewer breathless.

Penny Dreadful (2014-2016): Season 2 saw McCrory playing Evelyn Poole/Madame Kali, a medium and all around seductively evil agent of the “Master.” No spoilers here if you haven’t yet seen the series and if you are a fan of gothic horror, what are you waiting for? McCrory and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives are pitted against each other in a battle of supernatural power. There is also a subplot about how men perceived as socially powerful can be easily manipulated and controlled. It’s all deliciously dark and risqué but the best scene is McCrory singing the ballad, “The Unquiet Grave” in a way that will make your hair on the back of your neck legitimately stand up.

The Harry Potter Series: the Half-Blood Prince, the Deathly Hallows Parts 1&2 (2010-2011): McCrory entered this series of films late in the game but certainly made a huge impact in her portrayal of Narcissa Malfoy. Bred to be a member of the wizarding world that embraced the dark magic of Voldemort, she nonetheless invoked true sympathy from the audience in her devotion to her son, Draco (Tom Felton). She is much more nuanced in personality than her sister, Bellatrix (Helen Bonham Carter) who is somewhat unstable and domineering. Although without doubt fighting on the wrong side, her love of her family is poignant and McCrory masterfully brings out her maternal nature even as we root for her to be defeated with the rest of those who oppose “The Boy Who Lived.”

The Queen (2006):  As Cherie Blair, McCrory played opposite Michael Sheen as Prime Minister Tony Blair in this depiction of what went on behind closed doors among the Royals after the tragic death of Princess Diana. Her sassy, irreverent take on the institution of hereditary rule in the United Kingdom may not be something everyone agrees with, but she is a welcome bit of levity amid the thorny and sometimes, downright icy attitudes of some of the residents of Buckingham Palace as they are portrayed in the film.

Of course, there are other, smaller roles that McCrory played that are also memorable. For example, she was the voice of Stelmaria, the daemon of Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) in the series, “His Dark Materials.” Whatever she lent her talents to was enriched for having her in it which makes her loss all the more painful. Helen McCrory was a great actor not soon forgotten.  

Witchcraft Month: A salute to Hermione Granger

Harry Potter is the boy who lived, the hero of his eponymous series, but over seven books and eight movies, Hermione Granger is the MVP.

There’s no magical puzzle, spell, or dilemma that she can’t figure out, even if she needs a Time-Turner to be in multiple places at once. As Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) once noted admirably in 2004’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”: “You really are the brightest witch of your age I’ve ever met.” 

For Witchcraft Month on ITOL, I chose to salute Hermione, whom I met only through watching the films as an adult. The moment Hermione shot up her hand as an 11-year-old in class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in 2001’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” brainy girls like me everywhere found a kindred spirit.

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” / © 2001 Warner Bros. / Courtesy of IMDB.com

As played by Emma Watson (“Little Women”), Hermione always has a lot going on upstairs, but she’s more than just an insufferable know-it-all. The Sorting Hat sensed that, musing in the first book about where to place her because of her smarts, honesty, fair play, and hard work. It finally settles on Gryffindor, the Hogwarts house of bravery: “There are people in Gryffindor who might need you, Hermione Granger. People who need your intelligence, loyalty, cunning, and most of all courage. There are people whom you will help greatly, people whom you will mold their futures and be the reason why they had such a wonderful life.”

Hermione is a “mudblood” in the wizarding world – a magical child born to nonmagical parents, a couple of dentists – but that slur only seems to put a chip on her shoulder. She deserves to be at Hogwarts as much as anyone, and she’s determined to prove it, another trait relatable to any girl with intelligence and integrity who feels like she has to claim her space.

No wonder she consistently ranks at the tops of fan favorite polls. In a 2017 one conducted by National Book Tokens, based in the UK and Ireland, voters named Hermione the number-one Potter world character. She landed second, behind Severus Snape, in a 2011 poll from the books’ publisher, Bloomsbury. Poor Harry at least makes the top ten.

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” / © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Courtesy of IMDB.com

Some readers and viewers grew up hearing how boys didn’t like girls who were smart. The Daily Prophet slings similar barbs, calling Hermione “plain but ambitious.” Hermione can’t be bothered with such nonsense. She’s not shy about knowing any right answer and going to the library to discover more. She draws the eyes of a couple of guys just by being true to herself – and has no patience with future husband Ron (Rupert Grint) being petty. “Next time there’s a ball, pluck up the courage to ask me before someone else does! And not as a last resort!”

Her bossy attitude can mask her insecurities, something hard to recognize when she’s enunciating a levitation spell (“It’s Levi-OH-sa, not Levio-SAH”) or chiding Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) for wanting to face danger on his own. “I’ve always admired your courage, Harry, but sometimes, you can be really thick,” she says with more affection than bite.

Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” / Courtesy of IMDB.com

Hermione and Harry, to me, made a much better pair of friends and sweethearts. But it’s fitting that she, Harry, and Ron all gravitated toward each other: The mixed-blood girl, the orphan with a preordained destiny, and the youngest boy in an impoverished family whom people rarely took seriously. Hermione has the heart and bravery to protect them all, her friends and any innocent being, like the dragon within Gringotts Bank or Buckbeak, the hippogriff. She doesn’t even fall back on magic to do it, like when she pops Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) in the nose for hoping the magnificent beast will be executed.

“That felt good,” she says.

“Not good,” Ron says admiringly. “Brilliant!”

When there are so many pop culture witches to salute on Halloween, let’s raise a wand to Hermione. She’s an ever-clever and loyal friend who always does what’s right. When she’s around, who needs a sorting hat, a shape-shifting potion, or a magical goblet? She’s all fire.