"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" Script Review
When J.K. Rowling announced the worldwide release of the eighth story in her magic saga, fans were electrified. There had not been a Harry Potter story for nine years, and since the ending was left fairly closed in Deathly Hallows, people started to wonder what could possibly be the next step in the story of The Boy Who Lived. However, there was a twist: this new adventure was to be a stage-play, therefore the printed release of the narrative would be the script for a said play, and I think that went over many people's heads. Not because they weren't aware of it but because they didn't realise that writing and reading a script is not the same as simply taking the descriptions out of a novel and adding stage directions between the dialogue.
So they assumed it would read and feel like any other Harry Potter story, and what they got took their expectations by surprise. Not that I think that some more critical fans only didn't like the book because it's a script, I do think this story disappoints on many points that have nothing to do with the fact that it's written in script form, but I think that whatever problems the story had, might have been magnified by the fact that anyone that did not see the play, only had dialogue and stage directions to go by, myself included.
So, as you can conclude, I haven't seen the play, nor do I think I'll see it in the coming future since it's quite unavailable where I'm at. Therefore, my analysis will be strictly of the story, pacing and characters. And, as I said before, I'll take this story for the way it's written, that is, I'll remember that it's a script and not a novelisation, which will be important when I talk about the book's pacing.
Keep in mind this review will contain full-on SPOILERS for the entire story, so if you have not read the book until now, first, this is your warning, and second, it takes like one day to read, two if you're taking it slow, so give it a quick read and then come back.
Starting with the story, a brief synopsis will tell you that the story revolves around Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, as they go through their years at Hogwarts as best friends, and the struggles in their relations with themselves, the students around them, and more importantly, their respective fathers.
The main conflict of the story comes when Albus decides to right what he perceives as one of his father's greatest mistakes: the death of Cedric Diggory, and thus convinces Scorpius to use with him a prototype Time Turner, along with a new character, Cedric's cousin Delphini, to go back in time and save Cedric. As they do so, complications arise and they end up stranded in several bizarre alternate timelines. Ultimately, Delphini is revealed to be Voldemort's daughter, whose plan is to create a new universe, caused by the saving of Cedric Diggory, where Voldemort rules supreme, and it's down to Albus and Scorpius to stop her with the help of their respective fathers.
Overall, the two main criticisms this story receives are:
- It reads like fan-fiction.
- The characters don't talk and act like themselves, at least the recurring ones.
I think these two are correlated. By that I mean one causes the other and vice-versa. On the character front, I'll tackle that later, but for me, one of the reasons I kind of felt a little bit of fan-fiction in this story came right out of the premise of the conflict: time travel.
I wrote another article in the past where I explained why the argument of "why the time turners were never used in other situations", is invalid, in my opinion, if one really thinks about how time turners work. I thought it was more original than people gave it credit for because it was something that was only used once, for a logical reason.
However, the time turner presented in this story is so different, that I'd argue it can't even be called a Time Turner at all, and removes all originality from the time travel aspect of this story, because it ends up being simply being a 'butterfly effect' story, as an excuse for us to watch a bunch of what-if scenarios and our characters acting out-of-character. It's all magic we've seen before in other stories, even if in those stories, it wasn't called magic, and it doesn't have the creative, crazy, new magical concepts that pretty much every Harry Potter story presented. I think that given the small size of the book, and the importance these alternate timelines are given, makes it so that we can never escape from this insistence on seeing different realities, which are not that interesting, given that the characters in them are by no means the same, and by the end, they're nullified.
Other main problems with the story rely mostly on how the characters act and behave, even in the alternate timelines, so I'll save that analysis for when I get to characterization.
Given that I haven't seen the play, this is the one section where I believe I'll have the least grounds to judge the script. The erratic, abrupt, sudden movements forward and back in time are things that feel too sporadic in the book, but might not feel as such in the play. It also boils down to the decision to have a story that spans four years, plus travels in time, being depicted as a play, which might not have been the best. To be honest, if the story had jumped from year one directly to year four, it might have worked better.
The progressive strain of Harry and Albus' relation is nice to see from year to year, but it comes at the expense of having major time shifts suddenly happen, with no time to let them sink in, especially when the general audience thinks of a year at Hogwarts as a whole book, not simply, three pages. But again, this is something that might work better in the play, so I have little grounds to judge it on, even if it definitely felt odd and distracting in the book.
This will be the biggest topic I will cover, mainly because I think a lot of the problems with the story, come from problems handling the characters, and I couldn't mention one without the other, so I'll cover them all here. However, this is also where I think the book has its biggest strengths, so I'll be sure to cover them as well.
The main positive thing this book achieves as far as characters, and to be fair, on a whole, are the characters of Albus and Scorpius. Never in the description of Slytherin house is stated that Slytherins are or have to be in any way, rude or cruel, and Cursed Child stays true to that by showing two cunning, not that ambitious, true, but resourceful examples of Slytherin leads in Albus and Scorpius. Their relationship carries the whole story, and it works almost perfectly. I say almost because of the one thing I have to bring up: the excess of 'awkward' moments, for lack of a better word, between them hinted at a very possible romantic relationship, which was not transparent to most readers, myself included.
The book, however, pulls the rug out from under the readers by having the final scene between them be about their aspirations concerning girls, followed by what is described by the characters themselves as an awkward hug. You would think with that many hints and with J.K.'s explicit views on this matter, the next step would be to actually go the distance and present a homosexual lead to a Harry Potter story. It doesn't ruin the friendship, but it just feels unambitious and contradictory to what has been the story so far. Nevertheless, each character, on its own is interesting and compelling, they are not without their own sense of humor, which brings us very funny moments at times. Curiously, I found Albus to be more humorous than his father, at least with Scorpius, and it's all too clear why they're best friends. It's easily the best thing in the story.
As for the recurring characters, we can single out Harry, Draco, Ginny, Ron and Hermione as the ones given enough time to be more fleshed out as adults, however, given the size of the book, the focus is kept more on first Harry, and secondly, Draco.
Harry is pointed at by critics as the one who had the worst transition from Deathly Hallows to Cursed Child, and his character in this book remains overall unlikable, and unrecognisable from what we know of Harry as a person. One thing that I always praised in Harry even though he is nothing like myself, is that while he was at many times stubborn and on other instances lashed out at people, it was due to very stressing circumstances, and more importantly, he never crossed any serious lines, because, as much of a right as he had to be mad at some points, he was able to restrain himself and listen, most of the time. Here, on the other hand, Harry, as an adult, mind you, and facing not that extreme situations, loses all composure at certain points and lashes out at many characters, his own son included, not wanting to see any side of the argument other than his own. Simply put, at many points he's quite the douchebag. The curious thing is that there are other moments, mostly with Ginny, where Harry is the Harry I remember him being, but those offensive outbursts are so integral to the story that the one thing I end up remembering of Harry in this book are those instances where he was downright awful to the people he loved.
Draco on the other hand, is less divergent from his original personality, given that we never saw things in the other books from his perspective. Moments here where he opens up just a bit more to Harry or other characters are plausible, plus he also retains very familiar Draco Malfoy and Lucius Malfoy behaviours, so you definitely get some growth in him, even if it's unexpected directions, while remaining the Draco that you know. However, the final plot twist with him having another time turner for them to go back to and rejoin their sons felt quite forced, especially because there was absolutely nothing to set that up.
Ron and Hermione
Ron is, very much like his character in the movies, trivialized, and here, reduced to mere comic relief, which is really a waste. Practically every joke he makes to lighten the mood falls flat, not only because the characters around him don't pay any attention, but also because it's not funny. Ron always handled tricky situations with a dry, entertaining sense of humor. However here, it was mostly cringy and awkward. I'll give him this, he makes true 'dad jokes', which fit nicely here and there.
Hermione makes somewhat of a smooth transition, remaining fairly loyal to her character throughout, although, arguably, a bit too much. She's still hard-working, concerned, always giving advice, but she's also a bit insecure, as she was in her youth, however one would think several years as Minister of Magic would have made her more authoritative, almost like Professor McGonagall. However, even McGonagall talks down to her at one point. Harry changed too much. Hermione didn't change enough, but comparatively, the latter is preferable.
However, I should point out, that the various moments in alternate timelines where Ron and Hermione are not together and talk to each other are painfully awkward. The most prime example is when in the timeline when Ron is married to Padma, the plot stops dead, just for a scene in Hogwarts where Ron is full-on flirting with Hermione, despite the fact that he's married and has a son. The other moment happens in Voldemort Day when Ron and Hermione after 19 years of fighting underground, finally declare their love for each other, just as they're about to die. One would think that would have happened sooner. Yes, we know they're meant to be, but stop hammering it in, we get it.
I left Ginny for last, out of the main recurring characters because this is where I truly felt the book nailed a character, in terms of the transition from the end of Deathly Hallows to 19 years later. Ginny remains fierce, independent, supportive, assertive and to the point, and despite Harry's behaviours out of character, it's his scenes with her where he's most in character, and also where it's made crystal clear why they love each other (something the original books didn't do so well for a lot of readers). Ginny does not have the prominence she could have, but I think she's in it long enough to fulfill her role. She should also be credited with having the only line that made me go "Hell yeah!" when reading, when Draco shouts "My son is missing!", and she roars back at him "So is mine!".
However, this brings me to another thing. Even with this being a play, I couldn't help but notice how every major character now has major positions in the wizarding society. When reading the books, I never thought Hermione would even want to be the Minister, or have the right temperament for it. Harry as the head of the Magical Law Enforcement makes sense, and Ron being the co-runner of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes also adds up, as does Ginny being in charge of the sports section of the Daily Profet, but then why are the latter two at an Extraordinary General Meeting in the Ministry? This is really nitpicking, I know, but the point is, there is no room for people that we don't know having some sort of agency in the magical community. Everything important that there is to be done or said is done or said by a main character. Like I said, it derives from this being a play, there is no time for irrelevant characters saying important things, but it doesn't feel like the same world, when I know that in reality, more people would act on what's going on, and not just Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco. In the words of McGonagall herself: "Why is it when something happens, it's always you three?". My points exactly, but in this case, five.
Well, with most of the main protagonists covered, I'll give you my thoughts on the antagonist: Delphini. Most people don't seem to like her as a character, and main antagonist, and I think this is almost exclusively due to her origin. She's Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange's daughter, born before the Battle of Hogwarts, and raised by the Rowles, before she found about her true heritage from Rodolphus Lestrange.
I agree completely that this origin is absolutely ridiculous and betrays every aspect of Voldemort's character. Seeing as he only ever acts alone, and therefore would only ensure his immortality through Horcruxes or the Hallows, he would never be compelled to have an heir, and Bellatrix would never convince him to have one. Even if he did have one, he would never care for him, as Delphi clearly does here, so the fact that he did produce offspring is completely out-of-character for him.
However, Delphini's character and motivations worked for me on a number of levels. She's quite charismatic, enough to make the reveal of her identity a surprise. Her dialogue is witty, not at all forced, and when she finally reveals herself, she's menacing. And while she's a bit too irrationally evil (keep in mind, Voldemort was also to a certain extent), what really made her character stand out for me, was how different her motivations were from her father's. Voldemort always had that cliché end plan of just 'ruling the world'. Delphi does want a universe where he rules, true, but more than that, she just wants a universe where he's alive so that she can get to know him. The theme of the desired connection between fathers and sons/daughters is clear in Delphi as it is in Albus and Scorpius and for her, at least, it works extremely well, too bad Harry and Albus didn't get the same treatment. This point is driven home in the scene where Delphi, after having her plans thwarted, begs Harry to wipe her memory so that she does not have to live with the fact that she'll never meet her father. If she's not going to meet him, she'd rather not know he was ever her dad. That's wonderfully sad and twisted and it's one of my favourite scenes in the book.
With pretty much every major character covered, I'd like to touch on a few smaller points, positive and negative that I have with characterization:
- First of all, the premise of the Voldemort Day timeline being the death of Neville Longbottom at the hands of Cedric Diggory, with the latter becoming a Death Eater, out of a humiliating moment in the Triwizard Tournament is another prime example of how a character's character is not done justice: as a lot of people have pointed out, Cedric, as a true Hufflepuff, is all around loyal, true, and kind. He's arguably the last person that would ever become a Death Eater, more so than many people in Harry's closest circle of friends. The fact that he does is a disservice to the character he was already established as and was meant to have become, if he had not died.
- The moments in the Voldemort Day timeline where Snape shows up are painfully awkward, mostly because of the dialogue. I already covered Hermione and Ron, but Snape needs to be mentioned, as he's way too sentimental around the two of them and Scorpius. "Strange isn't it? What comes from within.", "Tell Albus Severus I'm proud he carries my name.". These are just two examples of Snape lines that do not fit his character at all, and which take me out of the moment and tension the scene is trying to build completely. I know you're trying to pull at the heartstrings of the audience to make them emotional because Snape is such a beloved and tragic character, but he became that while maintaining coherence.
- The scene where Hagrid picks up Harry from the rubble is a fantastic closing scene to the main plot, leaving only the epilogue to close the play. A clever, light way to do a callback, not that forced, which pulls at the heartstrings of the audience the right way. Definitely a stand-out moment.
- People saying "Thank Dumbledore!", as a substitution for "Thank God!" is weird considering the man died only 19 years prior and already it's a common expression. Plus it undermines the message of Dumbledore being a fallible man who moved past it. With the way Rita Skeeter wrote him in Deathly Hallows, I didn't believe that people would go from that to treating as if he's god, but it's a minor issue, and it was probably meant as a joke by the writers.
- Like I said before, Albus and Scorpius are filled with humorous comments throughout the play, and the moment where Albus has to distract Hermione, disguised as Ron is incredibly hilarious, and the way it starts the gag of Albus liking older women is quite funny. I just had to mention it.
- One last thing: Harry is afraid of pigeons. Whoever thought of that deserves a pat on the back. As a small moment, it's a very funny and memorable, nice touch.
Ultimately, I think the story put out in this script falls short of what came before on a lot of levels, and for it to work it would have to be rethought from the ground. I still think the biggest thing wrong with it is that it ends up being a butterfly effect story. Without it, a lot of complaints with the characters would go away, and you wouldn't have unnecessarily forced cameos and callbacks. It would also make it so that the story has a bigger impact on the timeline that we care about, instead of in other ones we never knew and that are erased. Obviously changing this would change the story completely. However, you could still retain Albus and Scorpius' friendship, their both being in Slytherin, and the theme of the relationship between fathers and sons. Delphini, on the other hand, despite being good as an antagonist and an interesting character in my eyes, comes at the expense of a serious betrayal of Voldemort's character, so I think some other thing would have to be thought of as an antagonist.
Given what we have, I think of this story like many people think of Christmas Specials of franchises. By that I mean, the story presented feels clearly different than what it had been before, is completely inconsequential to what came before, and completely inconsequential to what may come after. However, there are still good moments, good treatments of character and a cohesive moral message. And the best way I think a story like that can be presented is on stage, so on that level, it's being portrayed where it works the best.