‘Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts’: emotional 20th anniversary show with few surprises

From on-set romances to the star who nearly quit, what we learnt in the much-anticipated franchise retrospective

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If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you won’t need to be told twice to watch Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts. The HBO special, which comes in at nearly two-hours long, is an emotional and nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Just don’t go into it with the same expectations as Friends: The Reunion, because they're entirely different.

Here are seven key takeaways from the reunion special:

1. Don’t ‘Expecto Patronum’ to learn countless new facts about the series

For the die-hard Potterhead, there are few revelations in the special. We’re not going to spend the next 300 words comparing it to Friends: The Reunion, but where that show benefited from James Corden’s interview and a more candid feel, the Harry Potter reunion feels more rehearsed and staged.

Sure, there are interviews and conversations between cast and crew, but without anyone on screen asking the questions we all wanted answers to. For example, what do you actually think of JK Rowling?

That said, the relaxed chats between Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in the Gryffindor common room are gorgeous and, at times, emotional.

2. JK Rowling features – kind of

Speaking of Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series and a co-writer on the films, she is notably absent from the actual reunion.

Stars of the movie series come back together on set for the TV special without her. She is featured, however, via interview footage from 2019.

Rowling made controversial remarks on transgender issues last year. It is not clear whether those remarks are related to her absence.

3. It is packed full of stars

Along with Watson, Grint and Radcliffe, the reunion certainly does a good job of getting the stars back together. A-list alumni featured include Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Tom Felton, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Mark Williams, Bonnie Wright, Alfred Enoch, Matthew Lewis and Evanna Lynch, the list goes on. It is a reminder of just how brilliant the cast was.

Sadly, Emma Thompson, Warwick Davis, Robert Pattinson, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Timothy Spall are notable absentees.

4. The in memoriam is emotional

The special pays tribute to stars of the series who have died in the years since filming wrapped. Alan Rickman, who played Professor Severus Snape, gets an emotional tribute, as does Helen McCrory, the actress who played Narcissa Malfoy.

When Draco Malfoy actor Felton was talking about McCrory, he was noticeably choked.

5. Emma Watson came close to quitting

Perhaps the biggest revelation in the special comes from Hermione Granger actress, Watson. The British star revealed that she came close to quitting the series aged 15, as “the fame thing had finally hit home in a big way”.

Director David Yates says in the special that his first major job on the film was to convince her to stay in 2005, when filming Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

"When I started, one thing that David [Heyman, Harry Potter producer] and the studio spoke to me about was Emma is not sure she wants to come back to do another Potter," he says.

Watson also discusses her thoughts about leaving the film, and says to Grint and Radcliffe, “That was when things started getting spicy for all of us.

“I think I was scared. I don't know if you ever felt like it got to a tipping point where you were like, ‘This is kind of forever now.’”

6. On-set romances are touched upon

The majority of the Harry Potter actors were teenagers for much of filming, so young crushes and romances are discussed, lightly, in the special. No couples are outed, but it is alluded to that there was a fair amount of dating on-set.

For years, Watson and Felton are rumoured to have dated, but they both deny it in the special. Watson admits to a crush on her co-star, and they both say they have always “loved each other” but draw the line there.

“Emma and I have always loved each other, really,” Felton says. “I think I was in the hair and make-up chair and someone said something along the lines of, ‘She has a crush on you.’”

Radcliffe also admits to a crush on Carter, who played Bellatrix Lestrange and is 23 years his senior.

In a conversation between the two, they recall a note he sent her which read, “Dear HBC … It was a pleasure being your co-star and coaster in the sense that I always ended up holding your coffee.

“I do love you, and I just wish I had been born 10 years earlier. I might [have had] a chance. Lots of love and thanks for being cool.”

7. The magic of Harry Potter is still very real

Fans will be charmed by the special, no doubt. It’s a gorgeous reminder of just how encompassing the wizarding world of Harry Potter is. The sets are returned to and the most dramatic and touching scenes are revisited, plus each of the actors reflect on their years working on the films with great warmth.

I left the special wanting to embark on a Harry Potter marathon, which is exactly what I am about to do …

'Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts' will be released at midnight on January 1 on HBO Max in the US, and be shown on OSN Streaming at 12.01pm the same day in the UAE

Updated: December 31, 2021, 8:09 AM