Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you’ll know that Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince arrives in cinemas this week. That hideous suit Daniel Radcliffe wore to the world premiere last Tuesday in London’s Leicester Square may have put some of you off, but it shouldn’t, because the latest Potter film is certainly one of the best yet (see our review here).
Anyway, we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to highlight some of the series’ best (or worst) supporting characters. It’s not all about Harry, Ron, and Hermione, you know.
There were a few self-imposed conditions: none of the chosen characters could have appeared in all of the films (so out goes Snape, Hagrid and the Weasley twins) and all of them had to have some importance, either to their respective plots or to general Potter lore or be memorable in their own right. It is also based purely on characters from the first six Potter books and films.
Be warned there are a couple spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read or seen those yet.
Enjoy! And, as always, leave your disagreements down below.
Girls of a certain age swooned when the dashing Diggory made his entrance into the Potterverse in Goblet Of Fire. The Hufflepuff Quidditch team captain, school prefect and all-round Hogwarts heartthrob, played by Robert Pattinson (who would go on to set even more teenage emo girls’ gussets aquiver in Twilight), may not have had the biggest of roles in the Potter saga, but he sure did make a big impression.
Pattinson is on his way to A-list stardom and Diggory is still one of the best-loved supporting characters from any of the books and films. My wife even cried when he died.Dobby the House-elf
Yes, well. Where to start with Dobby, who has to rank up there with the Jar-Jar Binks and Scrappy Doos of this world as one the most insufferably irritating comedy sidekicks of all time? Perhaps some of the blame in this matter should go to Chamber Of Secrets director, Chris Columbus who must have seen the little dork as pure merchandising gold, and ramped up his screen time to the max accordingly. Going head-to-head with Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers‘ Gollum in 2002 – both films were released within a month of each other – for the Groundbreaking CGI Goblin-Thingy Award of the Year didn’t help the poor bugger much, either. And yet, love him or loath him (with most people firmly in the latter camp), Dobby’s legacy within the Potter saga is beyond dispute. He is, without doubt, one of the series’ most memorable turns.
However, the Dobby backlash and (relative) commercial trouncing by LOTR (estimated at around $100 million at the US box office) not only signaled the Potter films’ switch to an eighteen month release schedule (Azkaban was thus released in the summer), but saw the directorial reigns passed over to less saccharine-obsessed hands. Providing the catalyst towards the high water marks of Prisoner Of Azkaban and Goblet Of Fire. Also, the rumour persists that Dobby’s face was modeled on ex-Russian president, Vladimir Putin, which, if you look closely, can just about be seen.The Dementors
What is it about giant cowl-wearing, soul-eating wraith things that are so damn scary…hmmm? The Dementors were the genuine stuff of nightmares, and it’s fair to say that more than one kiddie’s dreams were haunted after seeing Harry tormented by the ghastly ghouls in Prisoner Of Azkaban. Call me old-fashioned, too, but the idea of sending the self-styled ‘foulest beasts on Earth’ to go and guard a school is just asking for trouble. And they actually get surprised when they turn over to the dark side.
Wizards, hey, they may be able to boss it around on broomsticks playing Quidditch, casting curses willy-nilly, transmogrifying themselves into cats and generally acting all flash, but show them a giant cowl-wearing, soul-eating wraith thing and they think: “Now there’s a good lunch monitor. Sign ‘em up.” Go figure.The Dursleys
Harry’s magic-hating Muggle relatives – who despised Harry and his wizardly ways so much they made him live in the cupboard under the stairs – were ever-present in the early films, fulfilling the role of wicked foster parents and representing everything small-minded and boring about Muggle life. Post-Azkaban, Dursley outings have been few and far between – perhaps the scriptwriters thought the joke was getting tired.
However, the comic relief/pantomime villainy of Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), Aunt Petunia and spoilt brat cousin Dudley will always be remembered with a wry smile, and the Dursleys are key characters in the development of Harry’s unloved orphan identity. Vernon is also the very first person introduced in any of the books, which has to be worth a shout on its own.Bellatrix Lestrange
Bellatrix is one seriously mean mother, and the first major female Death Eater (Voldemort’s closest dark wizard minions) introduced in the Potter stories. Lestrange turns up at the end of Order Of The Phoenix after escaping from Azkaban and kills Sirius Black – no mean feat, apparently. She then takes up a larger role in the new film, Half-Blood Prince, and seems lined up for even more screen time in Deathly Hallows 1 and 2.
One of the more memorable villains in JK Rowling’s series, and wickedly portrayed onscreen by Helena Bonham Carter, Lestrange buzzes around like a methamphetamine-fuelled Morticia Addams in a tour de force of maniacal over-acting.Gilderoy Lockhart
Brash blagger and all-round charlatan, Gilderoy Lockhart took up the ill-fated Defense Against the Dark Arts job in Chamber Of Secrets, and basically turned the whole thing into a giant publicity stunt. A narcissistic, fraudulent fop, whose whole career was founded on cribbing off the exploits of others, Lockhart was a broad sideswipe at the fawning cult of celebrity and modern obsession with style-over-substance ‘stars’.
Kenneth Branagh was perfectly cast as the man who turned one of the most important positions at Hogwarts into a vaudeville sideshow attraction, with disastrous results. Harry wasn’t fooled, though, and never warmed to Lockhart the Lag – who envied the young Potter’s blockbuster reputation – and was instrumental in his eventual comeuppance. Never actually a vanilla villain, per se, Lockhart is still an incorrigible and rather disdainful piece of work, but definitely a very colourful one.Luna Lovegood
One of the quirkiest characters in the Potterverse, Luna lives her life with her head permanently in the clouds – three feet high and rising – and has been described by Rowling herself as an ‘anti-Hermione’ figure. Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) makes her debut in Order Of The Phoenix and soon joins Harry in Dumbledore’s Army. The pair remained firm friends from then on in.
Permanently kooky and downright bizarre at times – (see her lion head costume in Half-Blood Prince) – Luna is a weirdo with a heart of gold, but certainly one of the most interesting Hogwarts students, and uber popular with the fans, too.Nearly Headless Nick
If the early Potter outings were all about capturing that childhood sense of wonder and the escapism of imagination, Hogwarts itself was probably as big a star as Harry, Hagrid or Dumbledore – with magic banquets, semi-sentient staircases and living portraits all par for the course. The ghosts who haunted its corridors, some of which had gone so far as to become official mascots for the four competing houses, further enriched the school’s gothic spookiness and sense of fully rendered history. The Bloody Baron and Peeves the poltergeist were popular, but it was the Gryffindor ghost, Nearly Headless Nick, who clearly stood head and shoulders above his cadaverous contemporaries.
Nick’s main running gag was the chagrin he felt over his only partially severed head, which disqualified him from the ghosts’ annual Headless Hunt. The slapstick specter was mainly used for a light spot of comic relief, hence the casting of John Cleese, but was soon benched as the series focused on being more grownup and ‘darker’. His petrifaction, and subsequent revival, by the basilisk in Chamber Of Secrets did ask some interesting questions of physics, though.Rita Skeeter
JK Rowling has always had a fractious relationship with the press and Rita Skeeter, a loathsome and manipulative reporter, was a none-too-disguised representation of this. Writing for both of the Potterverse’s major magical rag sheets, The Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly, Skeeter is a practitioner of ‘yellow journalism’ and not adverse to using gross sensationalism, blatant misrepresentation and smear tactics to get her story – and more than one of the Potter characters have felt the wrath of her Quick Quotes Quill.
Skeeter, portrayed by Miranda Richardson, makes various cameos throughout the books, but takes center stage in Goblet Of Fire – which is ostensibly about Harry coming to terms with his fame. While hardly a figure to warm to, Skeeter is perhaps one of Rowling’s most personally charged creations, and a warning to those who believe everything they read in the tabloids.Dolores Umbridge
Order Of The Phoenix was blessed with one truly memorable character in the, frankly, terrifying Dolores Umbridge, the personification of that creepy old schoolmistress who looks as quiet and unassuming as a mouse on the outside but is in reality a total, utter raging sadist. Armed with her sinister head-to-toe baby pink outfits and prim, forced smile, Umbridge represents the callow jobsworth who revels in their authority and just loves dishing it out, especially to those with the gall to not conform to their own ultra-conservative ideals. The reason she works so perfectly (and is, for my money, the best villain in the entire series) is because everyone has crossed swords with someone like Umbridge once in their life – and usually lost. The despicable Dolores was even described by horror legend Stephen King as the “greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lector…”, which is high praise, indeed.
Imelda Staunton was given the not unenviable job of brining Umbridge to life onscreen – which must have been like the thespian version of winning one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets – and dutifully delivered the most show-stopping performance of any of the films to date, completely stealing every scene, and further entrenching Umbridge into the pantheon of Potter icons.
On a more serious note, I would also like to extend my humble sympathies to the family of young actor Rob Knox (Marcus Belby in the latest film), whose life was tragically cut short. To you I pay my greatest respect.