Choosing the right school for your young fictional son or daughter can be an arduous process. Here’s a rundown of a few Boarding School Movies.
CRACKS (2009 Dir: Jordan Scott)
The film inspiration for this list, though not an inspiring film. See my review here.
Institution Profile: All Girls school secluded in dreary woods near a lake
Curriculum: Penmanship and letter writing, diving, and flower arranging
School spirit: The girls diving team
Kings/ Queens of Campus: Di (Juno Temple) is queen of her team and rules with an iron fist. A young Spanish aristocrat, Fiamma, becomes a quick favorite and rival for the attentions of the teachers and students.
Treasured Faculty: That flower arranging teacher seemed wholesome.
Instructors to Avoid: Ms. G (Eva Green). Seems energetic and worldly with her bohemian costumes and wild stories, but beware. This alum hasn’t left the nest of the school for a reason.
Should you enroll: Definitely not. The girls can turn cruel on a dime and lax supervision allows for misconduct from students and teachers. Plus, the curriculum is as light as a silk scarf.
NEVER LET ME GO (2009 Dir: Mark Romanek)
Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s soulful and meditative novel, Romanek’s film is a faithful adaptation with a wonderful cast led by Carey Mulligan. My review is here.
Institution Profile: Hailsham Co-Ed School
Curriculum: Health and Wellness, Drama Class simulating real world interactions, Art Class.
School Spirit: Informal Team sports can be fun, if you’re not the odd boy out. Making art that is selected for the Gallery. Things really get hopping when there’s a bumper crop.
Kings/ Queens of Campus: Ruth runs a group of girls and is a favorite among the boys. Kathy H. is Ruth’s quiet right hand.
Treasured Faculty: One of the favorite Guardians, Ms. Lucy (Sally Hawkins), was dismissed prematurely for telling her students more about what “they’ve been told and not told.”
Instructors to Avoid: Ms. Emily (Charlotte Rampling), head guardian, keeps a strict eye over Hailsham, the movements of students, and their health. Madame picks art work for the gallery, but seems creeped out by the student themselves.
Should you enroll: Students were born to attend Hailsham, so if you don’t qualify thank your lucky stars.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005 Dir: Mike Newell)
Mike Newell’s pass on the fourth book in JK Rowling’s series celebrates the prep school life of Hogwarts with inter-house squabbles pitting Cedric Diggory against our hero Harry. Also a school dance ignites love and envy among the whole school community.
Institution Profile: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Co-ed and open to Muggle-Borns.
Curriculum: Defense Against the Dark Arts gets vivid with Professor Mad-eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson).
School spirit: Hogwarts plays host to the Tri-Wizard Tournament engendering some school unity and fun activities. Watching Harry Potter out maneuver a Hungarian Horntail and beat the castle to hell, heading to the Black Lake, and the Magical Maze seem way more fun than the average Quidditch match. Also, the Yule Ball lets bookish Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) blossom in a elegant pink gown on the arm of Viktor Krum.
Treasured Faculty: Albus Dumbledore always has your back and best interests at heart, even though you may be entering a dangerous plot to bring back your mortal enemy. Professor Moody seems to be helping you defeat the dragon and rodent-tizing your Slytherin foes, but his true interests in your success are unclear.
Instructors to avoid: Study Hall with Professor Snape better be silent or else expect to be battered with a book.
Kings/ Queens of Campus: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), The Boy Who Lived, is the unexpected fourth contestant in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) splits the favor of Hogwarts students as the charismatic Hufflepuff.
Should you enroll: Definitely! You’ll make the best friends of your life, learn from the most talented and odd professors, and meet students from all over Europe.
DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989 Dir. Peter Weir)
Gold standard of boarding school, inspiring teacher, and romantic poets films. One of the best movies of all time. I dare you to disagree.
Institution Profile: Welton Academy for Boys
Curriculum: Latin, Biology, English Literature
School Spirit: Rowing is for the birds. The young men of Welton looking to Seize the Day are discovering Keats and Thoreau, writing their own verses, reciting love poems, and joining drama troupes.
Kings of Campus: Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) rallies the Dead Poets together and is the heart of the group. Charles Dalton or Nuwanda as he likes to be called is the eccentric side of the group, pushing them to take action on the ideas springing from Keating’s class.
Treasured Faculty: John Keating (Robin Williams), an alum and fantastic English literature teacher that challenges his students to think for themselves, discover their real interests, and pursue their dreams. Only answering to “Oh Captain, My Captain”, Mr. Keating breaks shy Todd (Ethan Hawke) out of his shell and channels the creative passions of Neil.
Instructors to Avoid: If you find your self in Mr. Nolan’s office you may fall prey to coercion or corporal punishment.
Should you enroll: Maybe. Only with loyal friends and teachers like Mr. Keating could the stuffy traditionalism of Welton be bearable.
After picking up my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows my friends and I hopped in a cab to Clarke’s Diner for coffee and booths to read non-stop. It was an amazing night reading with my friends getting feedback on our favorite lines and listening to them react to Rowling’s witty and poignant prose in real time. Only stopping for meals, I finished the book the next day and closed a door on a part of my life dedicated to predicting what would happen to Harry and his friends. In a moment of sadness better left private, a wave of comfort came upon me: the film series that initiated me in Potter was still there for me to enjoy.
That sadness descended on me again on Friday around 2:30am seeing Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint on screen together as the beloved trio for the last time. David Yates and the entire production team had done a brilliant job of bringing Rowling’s scenes to life, even improving on them compared to the novel. I took comfort knowing that this film and the whole series would endure alongside the books for new and old fans to enjoy.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the best paced and most powerful Potter film. With the help of splitting the book, we come into Part 2 knowing the stakes, the goal, and feeling the urgency in Harry’s quest. It plays in a normal action movie time frame, which brings a wonderful burst of life to everything on screen. Rowling constructed a beautiful and deep history around each dark magical object, but explaining each would have slowed the film down. Screen writer Steve Kloves and Yates rightly escape this and add logical and more direct story elements that allow Harry to discover each horcrux and track Voldemort’s movements.
The action begins right away with the expertly adapted Gringotts bank heist and return to Hogwarts. The comfort of seeing Hogwarts castle again is quickly shattered by the evil oppressing the students and teachers. The Battle brings Harry Potter down to our level, putting our heroes and the children of Hogwarts in mortal danger. Yates’ camera keeps the realism of war in balance with the magical adventure panning through the battlefield, tracking characters being struck down and the castle crumbling under enemy fire. Seeing characters that made us laugh during lighter times at Hogwarts lying dead packs a punch that had been missing from earlier films.
On a triumphant note, the Battle gave us a chance to see Harry’s friends at their best. Professor Minerva McGonagall is blissfully bad-ass in this film giving me instant confidence in a defense sans Albus Dumbledore. Dame Maggie Smith, always wonderful and fierce, whips her wand with authority in a duel with Alan Rickman’s Snape, sends the Slytherins to the dungeon (something we’ve wanted to do since Sorcerer’s Stone), calls down the guards of Hogwarts, and reminds us of the fun of magic saying with school-girl glee “I’ve always wanted to use that spell!”
Alongside her in awesomeness is Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom. As key to the destruction of Voldemort as Ron or Hermione, Neville is the hope of the resistance forging the masses to follow Harry’s lead, even in death. I would also add Julie Walters in her duel with Belatrix Lestrange. A crowd pleaser in the book, Walters and Helena Bonham Carter make this legendary Potter scene visceral and satisfying. I’ll always remember the wide grin on Walters’ face after Belatrix turns to ash.
The greatest gain in splitting the film comes in the valuable time we get to spend with Snape and Harry in key emotional moments. Alan Rickman plays coolly evil Snape and competes with himself for the worlds slowest sentence. Here in Deathly Hallows we see the true Snape; a man sustained by love to bear the blame for incredible crimes. Rickman kept all of us fooled in his restraint these last 10 years and floored me with his passion and sorrow. As in the book, those last scenes endear us to Snape and Rickman’s performance deserves award consideration come year end.
Daniel Radcliffe gives a complex and resolute leading man performance in Deathly Hallows Part 2. He wonderfully embodies the anguished passages in Rowling’s novel of Harry deciding to give his life for his friends. Radcliffe like the character Harry has grown in skill, yet I think his acting elevates the entire franchise (book and film) in those final scenes. I was inconsolable watching him accept death and talking to his lost loved ones. That emotional wallop comes solely from Radcliffe’s performance and he too should be recognized during awards season.
The final duel between Voldemort and Harry had shades of Luke and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back for me. Both match a dogged and righteous hero with a dirty fighting villain. Voldemort, like Vader, uses his power to throw Harry around the castle, changing the circumstances of the fight whenever Harry gains the advantage. Ralph Fiennes shows the cracks in Voldemort’s scaly exterior and makes that character truly vile. Radcliffe again excels as Harry, no longer running for cover, but standing toe to toe with the Dark Lord. Despite the height difference, Radcliffe brings a confidence and intelligence to the final duel that makes him tower over Fiennes’ Voldemort. I wished that Harry’s dueling monologue could have made it into the film, but that line of, “Come on Tom. Let’s finish this how we started it. Together.” was pretty satisfying.
The epilogue, which felt a bit stale and hokey in the book, really works for the film. They trim the scene to its barest and most useful essentials showing a Harry unencumbered by celebrity and darkness living a normal life. Radcliffe looked the most believable as a dad comforting and advising a younger version of himself off to Hogwarts. The last shot of the trio at peace and together closes the series with the dignity the story and the fans deserve. I’ll miss Harry, but I know these stories and the joy I found in them will stay with me always.