I groaned when I first read the online headline speculating that Harry Potter may be getting a television reboot but was this reaction genuine concern or instant snobbery? The article, was in fact, referring to rumours that HBO (Max) may be making a prequel, spin-off, world-building or redo of the books, TV series. “Broad ideas” at the moment, as the sources who divulged to the Hollywood Reporter, put it. Many news outlets have reported on this possible development, which doesn’t mean it is going to happen, but it does make it feel like another adaptation of Harry Potter is inevitable. The film series in so many ways feels like it has just finished, concluded to great success both financial and cultural. Harry Potter was a phenomenon, but doesn’t that involve moving on?
Harry Potter’s deep cultural legacy is still intact and beloved, despite its author, who I’ll get to soon. As reported, the past hyper-surreal year was a time for finding comfort, so not surprisingly, we re-watched the films and re-read the books during lockdown. Since 2011, when the last film of the series came out, the world’s cultural landscape has changed dramatically. Particularly British broadcasters who have struggled to remain dominant and relevant with the arrival of the new digital giants: Netflix, Amazon and every other American based company building entertainment empires. One decade on and the Britain proud of the whole film series too feels lost.
An HBO production. A deserving stamp of quality, glossy sounding, adult. HBO shows are solidly good, well made, high concept. HBO has certainly produced works of art, but it is still cable, unfit for the hypothetical Harry Potter series that should be available for everyone to tune in to around a cup of tea. HBO in the past was the big expense for many, a costly must-have, which was also available in Britain through private networks including it, like Sky Atlantic. Netflix, for all its criticism, is at least more affordable considering people’s budgets and that would be the first hesitation about creating any more Harry Potter universe content in general. Milk, milk the fans.
HBO Max is even more egregious a choice. Launched only in 2020 it has a grand 17.2 million activated users as of the New Year. It is part of HBO’s comeback, the fight against the new kids, but what it offers hasn’t quite been established yet. Its parent company is also WarnerMedia, making it feel likelier that the Warner Bros. film series will receive a TV adaption, though that decision is still not up to them. Subscription models tease out commitment. For me, Disney+ and other exclusive, claim-back-the-money platforms, could be a worrying trend. Massive businesses creating new companies which make their titles, classics, more expensive in the general market is not something studios and the industry should be proud of. Consumers spending silly money, so HBO or some other private monolith, can have their latest venture be a success, is something that this series ideally should not support. Exclusivity: promoting greed, creating avarice at the top.
It is well known to audiences, but misunderstood to the corporate world, that remakes require plenty of passed time, patience and organic relevance for the new work succeed. Genre is important and the prime example of a piece of culture that deserves to be rebooted, reimagined and redefine is Hanna Barbara’s Scooby-Doo. Every single teen TV show is inspired by Scooby Do, some heavily, and every series for all the family since Harry Potter is compared to Rowing’s creation, often fairly. Harry Potter is a different type of timeless, far more difficult to unwrap when the books were written in the ‘90s, long ago actually but not exactly unmodern.
The Hogwarts grounds are beautiful, the steam train departing from 9 and ¾ purposefully historic, an artefact linking to the books to the times of classic British literature. The films do a tremendous job of depicting the castle as a feature of the Scottish Highlands, making Hogwarts recognisable, an honouree, fictional castle. This is a visual image that captures the whole series and it is preserved rightly for all in the Warner Bros. studios in London. This is the one single image that fans have of the place, even if the castle was replicated inch by inch in a new reboot, would this very British legacy be marred by a future remake choosing to produce outside of the British Isles? The great and fantastic of British and Irish actors made the film series, fought for by Rowling, and simply there hasn’t been enough time for there to be years of new homegrown talent to call on in a recast. Americans got to be cast in their own film series, it is not a right for them to be cast in the original, superior one. However, with all this talk of nationality, there is the valid potential for a new future recast of creative diversity that is more explicit about British history.
Brexit. Since 2011, British identity has taken a knocking. Brexit and immigration, opening a can of worms – like the slugs Ron spews out in that grim scene. Pandora’s box has been opened, which is not even dramatic with the last several years of news coverage, and Britain has finally left the European Union.
Years of discourse about immigration asks whether Britain is actually a post-racial society, that has rightly been invalidated by the Windrush Scandal breaking and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement of the past summer. Some people think of Hogwarts as a grammar school, I think of it more internationally; a haven inclusive of the native British Wizarding nobility to children from the ‘Commonwealth’ for want of a better word. That is a fan theory, but what is real, is that the British education system has always been revised, negatively and positively, by immigration from Ireland to modern refugees. The politics of the day are infused in the later Harry Potter books, the opening of book six particularly. Today, we might not like our politics, but it must be reflected in national stories like Harry Potter, maybe not literally. The European Triwizard cup slashing its rules alongside our European partnership. Or the Hogwarts Train changing colours in a plume of smoke as it passes the Scottish border, possibly. Colour-blind casting can be done effectively with Dickens, Harry Potter isn’t that much of a stretch. Black Hermione in a remake, in the right hands, could be done very well and meaningfully. A new series would always have something important to say about whichever years it is made in.
Sometimes when you read a book so closely, you feel like you know the author too. Having spoken to many people about JK Rowling’s comments about transgender people, there has been mostly disappointment. It doesn’t make you a bleeding-heart liberal to be frustrated about Rowling’s repeated statements and cancel culture is only so useful a label. Literary icons don’t always have to write edifying, magnanimous prose like they’re running for President of the World but when their opinions cause additional controversy to sensitive issues it’s clear to me that it was a wrong thing to say. Celebrities on Twitter, politicians and vocal authors can say a lot loudly, but we should allow the discussed people to speak themselves, not for them, and listen to them first. There are consequences when a ‘culture war’ is entangled with the creator of a literary classic, one of them is audiences being split and hesitant about further endowing Rowling by paying to watch any type of Harry Potter TV series.
An egalitarian Harry Potter TV series would emphasise affordability over profits, maybe a joint collaboration with British broadcasters and streaming services, and would be global, diverse, incorporating contemporary British politics to deliver a new, universal story of love which it is. Wait longer for a new adaption, wait for the right director, right team and integral to television, the right showrunner, whoever that person may be. Change it up a bit, maybe Draco and Harry get together – I half jest. Keep and enhance the film series’ excellence. Potter will return one day.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons