FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
All your favourite magic animals are back in this eagerly anticipated sequel: the niffler, the thunderbird, the redmayne. Ah, the majestic redmayne. A graceful creature, inexorably drawn to shiny gold statues.
HOLD ON TO YOUR SORTING HAT — WE’RE HEADING BACK TO HOGWARTS. FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD IS PILING ON THE NOSTALGIA, BUT IT’S ALSO PUSHING THE SERIES FORWARD IN RADICAL NEW DIRECTIONS
WWORKING AT HOGWARTS DOES not make you immune to getting a bit overwhelmed about being in Hogwarts. The first time Zoë Kravitz walked through the entrance hall of the wizarding school, with its enormous wooden doors and crackling torches, she had a minor freak-out. The space was just as she remembered from watching it on film as a teenager. She felt a strange flash of déjà vu. “There were all these kids in their uniforms with their owls in their cages. It was… epic,” she says. “Harry Potter was the first book I ever asked my mom to buy me.” She was stepping into a world she’d held in her imagination for almost two decades. “It was completely surreal.”
Kravitz is one of the new additions to the expanding world of Fantastic Beasts (she was teased in the first film in photo form), playing the complicated witch Leta Lestrange. And she’ll be far from the only fan getting their robes in a bunch about the new film. After one instalment bedding in new characters, from hero ‘Magizoologist’ Newt Scamander to main villain Gellert ‘He Who It’s Fine To
Name’ Grindelwald, the second Fantastic Beasts movie is fully integrating with the Harry Potter series. The two franchises are colliding. The great hall will once more echo with excitable chatter. School is back in session.
For director David Yates, the return to Hogwarts has been emotional. As the man who directed the final four Potter movies, plus the first Fantastic Beasts, and, all being well, will direct the three Fantastic Beasts movies still to come, this world is his home. When he finished his final Potter movie, the following weeks were, he says, like a bereavement. He’d known during production of the first movie that The Crimes Of Grindelwald would bring the story back to familiar places from the Potter world, thanks to some teases from J.K. Rowling, and he was itching to return, but the true impact of coming back only really hit him during test screenings. “It was seeing [this film] with an audience,” he says, “when that camera flies over the mountain range and you see the school in the distance across the lake, you feel the ripple in the room. It’s amazing the power it has over people.”
Before we head back to Hogwarts, though, we need a reason to go there.
AT THE START of The Crimes Of Grindelwald, everything is buggered. All that larking about with moon cows and erumpents in the first film? That’s over. There is no more time for play.
“In the first film… [the characters] were all like children in grown-up bodies,” says Yates. “Jo [Rowling] said she felt that this film would be quite a major departure from the first one.” Rowling turned in a script that scatters the cast across the world, dividing relationships and preparing the Wizarding World for an oncoming war. “It felt like quite a complex emotional thriller.”
Complex is certainly the word.
There are a lot of plots happening here. After the events of the last film, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), has returned to London. He’s released his book, to huge success, making him extremely famous in certain circles (“He’s not world famous. He’s basically famous like when a singer is huge in Germany. He’s the David Hasselhoff of wizards,” says Katherine Waterston, who plays Tina). But he’s not happy.
“He just wants to get back to New York, to Tina,” says Redmayne. “But his travel documents have been denied.
The Ministry keeps interrogating him about New York and why he was really there and what his true agenda was…
He’s not in a very happy place. He’s kind of fucked off.”
Tina, meanwhile, is not in New York but Paris, where Newt will eventually follow. “She’s been reinstated as an Auror, which is everything to her,” says Waterston. “She’s trusting herself more after her instincts were proved right last time,” hence the journey to Paris, where she believes someone very important is hiding. Most of the film will take place in Paris, in 1927. The city is enjoying its années folles — its ‘crazy years’. Josephine Baker is cavorting about the music halls. Dalí, Picasso and Matisse are swanning around painting mad stuff. Hemingway is drinking the place dry. Hedonism, creativity and artistic freedom are rife. But not for everyone. Not for many of those in the magical world. The reason the action has moved here is because of one character, the one Tina is trying to find: Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller.
At the end of the last film, Credence was blown to bits. Revealed to be an obscurial — a wizard who has suppressed their abilities through shame, causing them to develop a parasitic, destructive magical force that eventually bursts out, usually killing them — he was considered too dangerous to live (he’d just ripped through half of Manhattan) and destroyed by representatives of the American magical government.
But they missed a bit. The last remnant of Credence fled to Paris in search of his real mother and some answers.
And having regenerated, he is now part of a circus.
“He’s landed himself in a familiar situation but this time he’s gone all Twisted Sister on it: WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT,” Miller says. He talks like this a lot, in sudden caps.
“The circus! He’s back in an abusive, repressive environment, but this time he has a companion.” That companion is the Maledictus (Claudia Kim), the circus’ central act and a woman who is cursed to eventually turn into a beast. “They’re both being abused and exploited and there’s only so much he’s going to tolerate.”
The man tying this all together, who
will necessitate the trip to Hogwarts and who is after Credence for still secret reasons, is the titular Grindelwald. Played by Johnny Depp, he starts the film in jail, having been captured for crimes against the wizarding community at the end of the last movie. He swiftly breaks out and begins a campaign to unite the wizard world against the non-magical, who he considers inferior, believing he can gather enough support to make wizards and witches the dominant form of humanity. And he might be right.
“Grindelwald as a villain is quite unlike Voldemort,” says Yates, comparing the two big bads of Rowling’s series. “Voldemort was basically a thug. If you disagreed with him, he’d just kill you on the spot. The scary thing about Grindelwald is that if you disagree with him, within five minutes he’ll have you agreeing with him… He’s incredibly charming and convincing.” He’s not a warrior but a seducer. He’ll bend the truth until it fits what you want to hear and he can get you on side. He is an enthusiastic subscriber to fake news.
Yates denies that the ridiculous-haired demagogue with skin of an inhuman tone and a zeal for his own version of facts has any basis in any real-world leader, calling the film “political with a small p”. He says, “The Wizarding World gives us this wonderful allegorical opportunity to explore those ideas — of valuing and celebrating tolerance and curiosity about others — in a way we hope would appear timeless, rather than a prosaic part of the present.”
Redmayne sees it a little differently, saying that comparisons to various political movements, in both the US and UK, became apparent during filming. “Obviously Jo wrote it a couple of years ago, but she does have this facility… of catching a zeitgeist before we all catch up to it. The film really does seem to parallel what is going on… She’s using a moment in [fictional] history to remind us of the parallels with our moment in history”
One thing that makes the Fantastic Beasts moment in history quite unlike our own is that we know who is going to be able to put things right for them. In order to bring down Grindelwald, the world’s various magical authorities are going to need the help of the one man who knows him better than anyone else, a man we haven’t seen in the Rowling verse for quite a few years.
JUDE LAW IS absolutely thrilled to be described as ‘the young Dumbledore’. “I love it!” he barks, the sentence coming out with about 17 implied exclamation marks. “I’m 45. I’m middle-aged. I’m one of the oldest in the cast!” Compared to the Dumbledore of the Potter series, Law’s version is a baby, about 70 years younger than the white-bearded, kaftan-sporting old hippie played by Richard Harris and Michael Gambon.
Here he is still a Defence Against
The Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, in neatly tailored tweeds and with a beard that barely grazes his shirt collar. He is not the man fans, or the film’s director, already knows.
“When Jo said Beasts 2 was going to have this younger version of Dumbledore, my first instinct was still to find an older actor,” says Yates. “Jo said, ‘David, no, you haven’t got it. This isn’t Dumbledore as everyone knows him.
This is Dumbledore as a rebellious, mischievous younger teacher.’” The Dumbledore we’ll find here is living the experiences that forge the man we see in the Potter movies. He has the familiar insurgent streak, but hasn’t yet acquired the wisdom to detach himself from events and be steered by his head rather than his heart. “It was suddenly thrilling,” says Yates. “I felt I knew this human being and suddenly Jo said, ‘No, you don’t.’”
Dumbledore is chosen, by the British Ministry Of Magic, as the man to bring Grindelwald to justice, but he refuses to do it directly, for reasons we’ll get to shortly. Instead he persuades an old pupil, Newt, to do it for him. Law sees a direct comparison with Dumbledore’s relationship with Harry Potter. “Dumbledore has an overview of events that most don’t and therefore can’t tell everyone everything at one particular time,” he says. “He did the same with Harry, really. He steered Harry until he realised he was being used, but in a way that he knew there were things he couldn’t find out until it was right to find them out. It’s the same here with Newt.” Law says the key to his understanding of their friendship came from a note by the author. “Jo told me that in some ways Dumbledore thinks of himself as a beast because of things he’s done in the past,” he says, “and he knows therefore that Newt [as a beast-lover] will forgive him.”
Redmayne is very careful in discussing why Dumbledore sends
Newt after Grindelwald, beyond him being his favourite ex-pupil. “I don’t want to give away what Dumbledore’s relationship is with the first film,” he says, “But at the start we see that he maybe had some influence on what went on in the last film.”
The reason Dumbledore is asked to help stop Grindelwald and the reason he can’t do it himself is something that
has caused the film some negative press, not for the plotting but for the way it was publicly discussed. It was established in 2007 that Dumbledore is gay and was in love with Grindelwald as a young man. Given the story’s focus on the two men, Yates was asked how Dumbledore’s sexuality and relationship with Grindelwald would be addressed.
His answer was that it would not be dealt with explicitly. It caused understandable upset and accusations of cowardice, suggestions this was another studio production fudging representation by stating a character’s sexuality off-screen but not on, like the bisexual Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok or pansexual Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Asked about it now, it’s clear Yates is still bruised by the reaction and understandably peeved that the think-pieces and Twitter storms happened without anyone seeing the film.
“In that earlier interview, I didn’t say Dumbledore’s not gay. He is,” says Yates. But he says this instalment in the series only gives the first hints of what happened between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. “This part of this huge narrative that Jo is creating doesn’t focus on his sexuality, but we’re not airbrushing or hiding it… The story [of the romantic relationship] isn’t there in this particular movie but it’s clear in what you see… that he is gay. A couple of scenes we shot are very sensual moments of him and the young Grindelwald.”
He asks viewers to remember that this is a five-part story and that, in grand Rowling tradition, there is a lot still to be revealed. “[Dumbledore’s love life] is not really where Jo’s interest was in this story, because the story is about other things, fundamentally, but the story of Grindelwald and Dumbledore, going forward, that is the story. I think people just have to wait and see and appreciate that in movies to come that relationship will be explored much more fully.”
Given the period in which the film’s set, the 1920s, and the less than progressive attitudes we saw from the magical community in the first film (relationships between the magic and non-magic are illegal, at least in America), we wonder if Dumbledore is even openly a gay man at this point. “Dumbledore is not out as a gay man in this film,” says Yates. He says he’s not sure on the Wizarding World’s general acceptance of LGTBQ+ people, as it’s yet to come up, but promises to ask Rowling.
The reaction to Yates’ quote didn’t surprise Law. “People are very passionate about these stories and that particular topic doesn’t just deal with the characters in the book but people in real life dealing with their sexual orientation… so I can understand why it was emotionally charged,” he says. “I know the full story. This is part two. There’s more to come.”
THE RETURN TO Hogwarts is a reunion for fans, but so far it only includes some of the cast. Kravitz got to film there because Leta Lestrange is a remnant from Newt’s Hogwarts past. The pair forged a romantic, though possibly not reciprocal, relationship at school, where they were both outcasts. He, because he was an oddball who only wanted to be friends with animals. She, because she was part of a family with a pretty dark history. As a boy who always had an eye for anything misunderstood, Newt was drawn to a character who is neither hero nor villain. As Kravitz puts it, “Leta is constantly drawn between the good and the bad, the light and the dark, trying to work out where she fits.”
Leta was the first person Newt had feelings for and comes back into his life in a rather painful way: she’s now engaged to his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner). “I don’t know if anyone in this triangle really knows what’s going on,” says Kravitz. “Newt is not always good at making his feelings clear.” Exactly why Leta goes back to the school we don’t yet know, other than she has a meeting with Dumbledore (both Leta and Newt are played by younger actors in flashbacks), but filming inside the school was a luxury afforded to her, and not to her leading man.
“No, I did not get to go to Hogwarts,” says Redmayne, all but stomping off and slamming the door to his room. “Technically I filmed at Hogwarts. There’s a shot where we come to the aquaduct [outside the school], but that was really standing in front of a massive green curtain.” When asked if she made it into school grounds, Katherine Waterston simply makes a ‘harrumph’ face. She did not make it into school grounds.
There is still plenty of time for such things. The reintroduction of Hogwarts and Dumbledore in this film are just the beginning of a larger story that will fuse together the worlds of Beasts and Potter, as we find out just what secrets lie in the future headmaster’s past. “Fans are in for a lot of surprises,” says Law. “This film is full of secrets and revelations… but there is so much more to be revealed.”
After all, you don’t learn everything on your first day at school.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD IS IN CINEMAS FROM 15 NOVEMBER
Director David Yates on-set with Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore.
Clockwise from left: Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore, plus Hogwarts students; When it comes to causing mischief, the Niffler is always on the case; A magical meeting for Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz); Alchemist Nicolas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) introduces himself to Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
Clockwise from above: Allies Maledictus (Claudia Kim), and Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller); Dumbledore chats to pupil Lestrange; Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) reaches out to Lestrange; Yates gives direction to Alison Sudol, aka Queenie Goldstein, between takes.
From top to bottom: Yates with Redmayne on set; Kowalski and Scamander embark on a magical mission; Dumbledore looks into the Mirror Of Erised.