Show Hide image

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (12A)

Hogwarts may not be a sink school, but there’s still room for improvement

Ofsted inspection report: Hogwarts. Inspection date: July 2009. Boarding provisions: Yes. Description: Gaudí-lite spires set against an unconvincing matte sky. Specialist status: Magic. Age range of pupils: 11-18. (Allegedly.)

Hogwarts is a bigger-than-average school incorporating many miles of surrounding countryside. However, it was felt by the inspectors that said countryside displays the artificiality associated with sound stages and CGI. Also, there is a giant spider living wild in the school grounds. This gives cause for concern, as does the facial hair of Robbie Coltrane, also living wild in the school grounds.

The school serves a community that is largely Caucasian and middle-class, with a dubious sense of entitlement. Exemplifying this is the wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), known informally as “the Chosen One”. It was felt that he may harbour a messiah complex, though if you can be dragged underwater by a horde of clawing zombies without your hair getting mussed up, then you have probably earned the right to act the big man.

Harry plays an important part in life at Hogwarts, though the view was expressed that he remains the least interesting person encountered. This renders perverse the school’s focus on him at the expense of pupils who have more than two facial expressions in their repertoire.

The compliant student body and general innocence at Hogwarts conspire to create a mood that would make Malory Towers resemble the borstal in Scum. While thankfully no sign was found of skunk-smoking, happy-slapping and other antisocial pastimes, neither was there any indication of actual adolescence.

Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) was overheard confiding to Harry that Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) has “nice skin”, and though it is refreshing to hear such decorous language in secondary education, it was surprising that the strongest insult to reach our ears was “daft dimbo” – and that during an inimical exchange! While “Just Say No” is a policy generally to be endorsed, there is the feeling that at Hogwarts these days it has come to mean “Just Say No to Anything That Might Raise the Pulse Above a Murmur”.

So though it is regrettable that the death of a significant figure at the school occurred at the end of our inspection, it was nevertheless nice that something dramatic happened at last.

Which brings us to the subject of extracurricular activities. Quidditch, in other words. Despite repeated recommendations that this game be ditched, still it persists. With its padded outfits, high-speed broomsticks and random shouting, it has the feel of an airborne It’s a Knockout, and no one is any closer to understanding the rules.

On a positive note, it is encouraging to find that the Hogwarts faculty continues to offer a thoroughgoing scheme to help integrate back into ordinary work those actors who have previously excelled under Mike Leigh. Following Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis and Timothy Spall, the latest beneficiary is Jim Broadbent, who, as one Professor Slughorn, first appeared to us here transformed magically into an item of living-room furniture. After that eye-catching entrance, his fine work rather diminished, due in no small part to the one-size-fits-all style demanded of the teaching staff. It was still mildly diverting to witness Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) apparently competing with the headteacher, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), to discover who . . . could . . . speak . . . the . . . slowest. That may be why everything takes twice as long at Hogwarts.

In summary, we would like to see the school transformed into a site of stimulation and vitality.

Of course, there’s only so much you can do with a property that is at heart derivative and uninspiring. But with a further two inspections scheduled over the next two years, it’s never too late to start trying – even if what we’ve seen so far suggests that complacency is one of this institution’s defining characteristics. In the meantime, the Hogwarts admissions office is advised to investigate the claims of Harry and friends that they are 16 years old. Subterfuge on this scale has not been suspected since the 1970s Grease scandal in the US, when adults in their thirties were found to be posing as teenagers at Rydell High.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, King and Country