This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
Despite the various wrinkles in their DC movie slate thus far, the studio bods at Warner Bros. Pictures must be sitting pretty on the upcoming revival of their Harry Potter franchise. November sees the release of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, from a new screenplay by J.K. Rowling that is intended to launch a trilogy. No matter what happens with that plan, the studio can always fall back on a Force Awakens-sized event ‘legacy-quel’ in the next decade or so.
But what about Harry Potter And The Cursed Child? A play in two parts, co-written by Rowling, Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, the production opened in London this July and is already more or less sold out until the end of 2017. The story focuses on the now grown-up Harry and his troubled middle child Albus on a dangerous last day of summer, and as fans are still sharing the #KeepTheSecrets hashtag, we won’t go into any more detail about the plot just yet.
An original provision in Warners’ rights to the Potter books is that they can only make movies based on Rowling’s stories, which they have in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movie(s) and, potentially, in The Cursed Child. Although the author has been adamant that the story is meant for the stage, that hasn’t stopped the studio trademarking the title for a movie adaptation and last week, the New York Daily News reported that they’re looking to turn the two-part play into a trilogy of films.
The studio took their bumps from critics over this release strategy for Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, but made just under $3 billion at the worldwide box office with the trifurcated adaptation. As such, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that they’d go down this route, even if it objectively sounds like a bad idea, but what other challenges will the new story present in translation from stage to screen? Will Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all reprise their roles for a legacy-quel, some years after 2011’s Deathly Hallows Part 2? We’ve been looking at the script and the current movie industry and we’d like to make some guesses.
Before we get into speculation, a final warning: we’re going to dive into the plot of The Cursed Child in this feature. The script book broke sales records when it was published simultaneously with the play’s official opening, but we appreciate that you probably haven’t read it or gone looking for plot details if you’ve booked theater tickets for this time next year, so unless you’ve seen the play or read the script or otherwise just know there are spoilers throughout!
When is the earliest we could see a Cursed Child movie?
The story picks up during and immediately after the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows, with Albus about to get on the Hogwarts Express, and moves forward another three years to the eve of Albus’ fourth year at school. This means Harry, Ron and Hermione are 40 years old when the bulk of the story takes place.
The end of the last film had Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, Bonnie Wright (Ginny Potter, nee. Weasley) and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) aged up for this final sequence, to mixed results. The greatest special effect in any of the eight movies was watching these kids age naturally in the roles over a decade of production and the final made-up scene jarred with that a little. Logically, there are a number of reasons why it makes sense to wait until the cast have aged into their characters.
We’ve seen this approach in The Godfather Part III, which came 16 years after Part II and Danny Boyle deliberately put off shooting next year’s Trainspotting 2 until after the principal cast had aged up a bit. This aside, two decades certainly wouldn’t be the longest gap ever between sequels — to go back to the Star Wars example, which really is the most relevant case study in bringing back an older cast, there were 32 years between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens.
Another important factor in the story being designed for theater is the play’s life on stage, which always figures in any cinematic spin-off of a theatrical smash hit. Look at how long it’s taken Wicked to come to the big screen — a film adaptation has been mooted and delayed for years, because the stage version has raked in money every week since it opened in 2003. For the same reason that you shouldn’t count on a National Theatre-style live stream of The Cursed Child in cinemas any time soon, they’re unlikely to be in any rush to cut off the play’s sellout success by transferring it to another medium.
With all of this in mind, and looking at how there’ll likely be a Fantastic Beasts movie every two years from now, (the sequel is already dated for 2018 and another would presumably follow in 2020) we’d estimate that the earliest reasonable date that we might see The Cursed Child in cinemas would be in 2025. If they were to actually follow the “19 Years Later” of the epilogue, that would put it in 2030, but the time it’s going to take to make it presents some unique logistical challenges.
Which actors would return from the earlier films?
Much of whether this succeeds or fails will hinge upon the returning cast — there’s not a lot of point in making the sequel for the big screen if they’re recasting characters willy-nilly and some of the cast have moved on. Daniel Radcliffe, for one, has been ferociously breaking type since taking off Harry’s specs, a path that he seems to have continued in his upcoming films Swiss Army Man and Imperium, and has previously been reluctant to commit to playing Harry again when interviewers ask him about it.
“It’s a tricky one,” Radcliffe told Andy Cohen on his SiriusXM show last month. “You never want to close a door on anything, especially something that’s been so good to me. But I do think, at the moment, I’m definitely not at a stage where I would feel comfortable going back to it. Who knows if in 10, 20 years I would feel differently about that, and I think I’ve got a little while before I’m sort of age-appropriate for this Harry.”
Radcliffe and his young co-stars might be persuaded to come back to their roles somewhere down the line, as they get some interesting character development over time. Forty-year-old Harry may as well be an entirely different character to Radcliffe’s portrayal — he’s a husband and an anxious father now, haunted by his own traumatic childhood and trying to do his best for the people he loves. Ron, Hermione and Draco all have different dimensions to their characters too, sometimes literally, which will pose an interesting challenge to the actors who grew up with these roles.
Aside from Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco, there are pivotal roles for several of the grown-up characters two decades later, which means there are parts for Dame Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall), Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), Fiona Shaw (Petunia Dursley), and Jeff Rawle (Amos Diggory.)
But if you don’t know the particulars of the plot, then here’s the rub. The Cursed Child is a time-travel story, in which Albus and his best friend Scorpius Malfoy (Draco’s son) steal a Time-Turner from Hermione, who has ascended to the office of Minister for Magic, and make an ill-considered bid to save Cedric Diggory from being murdered at the end of the Triwizard Tournament.
They visit each of the three tasks that made up The Goblet Of Fire and run into various past versions of characters in the process, changing the future in subtle or drastic ways as they go, inadvertently opening a window for Albus’ crush, Delphini, who just happens to be Voldemort’s offspring, to try and pervert history to her own ends.
Due to this structure, there are even roles for several actors whose characters have been killed off, either in the past or in one of the alternative timelines, including Robert Pattinson as Cedric. As long as the cast are still working by then, it’s not necessarily going to be a problem for the other grown-up actors to reprise their roles in the present day. But even if everyone is back on board, there are other issues in making the story into a sequel to the films.
How will the time travel scenes work?
Or: How does Cedric Diggory become the most important person in history?
As in the book, the ending of Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner Of Azkaban has Harry and Hermione travel several hours back in time and move parallel to their past selves to save the day in true Back To The Future Part II style. However, if we’re going to see Albus and Scorpius revisiting Goblet Of Fire on screen, it won’t be a matter of a few hours but a movie that will be 20 years old by that point.
You can’t Trial & Tribble-ations it either, by inserting characters into old footage, because of the various interactions that Albus and Scorpius have with people. Notably, they bump into Hermione while trying to sabotage Cedric’s chances against the dragon in the first task, and later get saved by Cedric himself during the third task. In the latter regard, by messing with Cedric’s life, they transform his role from “the spare” killed in the graveyard into a pivotal character who inadvertently brings about victory for Voldemort.
Even if Warner Bros. were planning ahead, they couldn’t very well shoot any of that stuff while Watson and Pattinson still look relatively young, because the actors they’ll be interacting with may not even have been born yet, but we already know how they could get around this one. Advances in special effects have already taken us from the CG Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy to an uncanny Michael Douglas in Ant-Man in just five short years (a trick that Marvel repeated by recreating a teenage Robert Downey Jr in this year’s Captain America: Civil War) so who knows where technology will get them in a decade’s time?
On a minor storytelling level, the movies might also have to mess with the timeline a little. The first seven books are set in the 1990s and the climax of Cursed Child involves specifically travelling back to Halloween 1981, the night Harry’s parents were killed. The opening of The Half-Blood Prince has Death Eaters attacking London’s Millennium Bridge (built, as you may have guessed, in 2000), so for continuity’s sake, they’ll have to settle on the timing of the original films — it may just be as simple as calling the year 1991 instead. Frankly, that’s not the biggest change they’ll have to make in the adaptation.
What might change for the movie version?
The published script is the rehearsal edition, which was subject to change between printing and the play’s opening night, but given that the combined running time of the two parts is five hours, the script must be either condensed or padded out depending on how they’re going to manage the big screen version. Pacing aside, there are a couple of big changes that ought to be made right from the off.
Firstly, we brushed past this earlier when we covered the availability of the grown up cast, but there’s simply no way to adapt the script faithfully because of the prominence of Snape in Part 2. As we know, Alan Rickman tragically passed away in January this year, which means that even if they started filming today, they’re not going to have the whole cast available.
There’s no way you can recast him, but you could feasibly write Snape’s part out of it. Ron and Hermione are arguably more important to this section, which takes place in a timeline in which Harry died at the Battle of Hogwarts and Voldemort took over the world. Both of them end up on the wrong end of a Dementor’s kiss as they help Scorpius to restore history to its rightful course, in a strategy that’s a little reminiscent of the beginning of X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Alt-Snape takes Scorpius to them and also gets his soul sucked out for his troubles, but in a different timeline, you could swap him for Draco, for instance, and pack a similar emotional wallop.
Speaking of emotional wallop, something that should be developed by whoever ends up writing the script — Steve Kloves wrote most of the previous films, but Thorne is an experienced screenwriter and Rowling will be too, by the time they get around to this — is Ginny Potter’s role.
Neither the films nor the books have been particularly interested in her inner life and it’s disappointing that she’s so sidelined here when the other characters have each been expanded and developed. If you’ll allow us to be a bit more critical than speculative for a moment, while we understand that The Cursed Child is a story about a father and son relationship, it couldn’t hurt if Albus’ mother had a bit more to do.
Finally: should it be three films?
Short answer: no. To elaborate, you’d hope that WB would have learned their lesson from the diminishing box office returns of the protracted Hobbit trilogy and the recent fiasco involving the finale of the Divergent series being shifted into a TV movie. Alas, it all depends on how far they’re willing to push audiences’ investment in the franchise. It shouldn’t be a trilogy, but if their trio of Fantastic Beasts movies break the bank, it just might be.
Beyond the business perspective, there’s little need for the story to be spread out over that much screen time. The cliffhanger of Part 1, in which alt-Umbridge informs Scorpius that Harry is long dead, Albus no longer exists and he’s “ruining Voldemort Day” is cheeky enough to end a play, where you’re going to see the conclusion within hours or days, but it would be a bit irritating to see it before a year-long wait for the next installment — just one of the reasons why cliffhanger endings don’t work well in films.
At the most, if they want to be faithful to the source, it could be two films, as it’s quite a busy story to put into one film. It’s not impossible, but the aforementioned box office motivations might win over and make this a multi-film prospect.
Counter to the “all is well” ending on which Rowling previously left us, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is a story about Harry’s past coming back to haunt him and his son in unexpected ways and it’s also about how life goes on for that character after enduring some of the worst things that can happen to any child in this world.
The inevitability of the movie adaptation is an intriguing prospect for fans, but its timey-wimey complexity could also make it a bit of a logistical nightmare. If we were them, we’d sit down Michael Gambon as soon as possible to film some portrait wisdom around about now, just to make a head start on a project that will be more complex than any of the previous installments.