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Madam Puddifoot’s: Romance in the Movies: Why They’ve Got it Right

by The Ninth Doctor

I’ve been more than a little bit baffled lately when I’ve heard people saying that the movies have been leaning towards a Harry/Hermione relationship. This has, for some reason, seemed to increase since the release of GoF, and I felt I had to voice my thoughts on the matter. Firstly, I want to make it be known that I don’t want to get into a shipping debate here — those things belong to the pre-HBP era. I’m writing about adaptation, the way the romances in the books have been adapted to the medium of cinema, and the way (I believe) the filmmakers have successfully put the right message across.

Personally, I’m not a shipper. I never have been. I’ve never cared “who ends up with whom.” I’ve enjoyed the romances in the books so far, and they have me emotionally engaged — which, of course, I should be. For example, I want Harry and Ginny to get back together again in Book 7 — which is what Jo Rowling intends, I’m sure, given the way the break-up scene was written. I saw Harry/Ginny coming long before HBP came along, yes, but I wasn’t obsessively following it. So, if anything, I’m a “canon shipper” — I like what I’ve seen in the books and am interested in what will happen next, but I don’t care for speculation, over-analysis, and “shipping.”

We can’t really discuss Harry/Ginny in the movies at this stage, because, like in the books, it is thus far a background issue. The filmmakers won’t be able to tell that story in the same way as in the books, because they didn’t include Ginny’s debilitating crush on Harry. Ginny’s character development and emotional maturation will not exist in the movies — it’s more likely that we’ll have a straightforward romance in HBP, which will be subtly foreshadowed in OotP (as it was on the book), but without the previous four years of background that the books have. I’m fine with that — you can’t have everything, and it will still work if written well enough. But given all the hints in the movies so far, we can talk about the other main romance in this seven-part saga: Ron and Hermione.

It seems to me that, so far, the way the filmmakers have handled the Ron/Hermione romance has been absolutely spot-on, and the criticism of them has been very unfair. I don’t think they could have been more obvious about it if they had stuck it on the screen in big flashing lights. In every movie so far, it has been made very clear that Harry and Hermione have a deep, comfortable, platonic friendship, while Ron and Hermione have a lot of romantic tension and the potential for more in their relationship. I have not seen a single scene that contradicts that interpretation.

We have to first understand the difference between platonic love and romantic love, especially in cinema. I think part of the problem is that when people see that a boy and a girl are very good friends, when they hug and comfort each other, they automatically assume it’s romantic. It’s sad, in a way, that a boy and a girl are not allowed to be close friends without people projecting romance onto it — Jo herself dealt with that issue in GoF and OotP, with the misconceptions of Rita, Krum and Cho about Harry’s friendship with Hermione. But hugging and comforting are not signs of romance — they generally are signs of affection, but affection can mean lots of things. What we have to look for with teenagers is often awkwardness, embarrassment, jealousy, angst, and tension. It’s not always fluffy and “twoo wuv”-ish, but it’s realistic… at least in my experience! That’s how it is for teenagers (and, dare I say it, a lot of adults, too) at first. I don’t see any of this with Harry and Hermione in the movies. I see bucket loads of it with Ron and Hermione.

The filmmakers even went as far as to start Ron/Hermione earlier in the movies than in the books, so confident were they that it was going that way — the moment at the end of CoS when Harry and Hermione hug, and Ron and Hermione are too awkward and embarrassed to do so, should have made things absolutely clear from a very early stage; nobody could have missed that hint, surely. That is exactly how a young girl and boy who fancy each other would act. This continued in fine style in PoA, which is probably still the most overtly Ron/Hermione of all the movies. Their awkward reaction to the hand-holding in Hagrid’s paddock; the little “do you want to move a bit closer?” gag at the Shrieking Shack; Hermione turning to Ron for comfort, not Harry, when Buckbeak is “executed”; Ron and Hermione replaying the Malfoy/Pansy scene from earlier in the film, about the extent of his injuries. What do Harry and Hermione have to compete with that in the first three films? Er, well, they’re friends… they talk to each other… they smile… they hold hands when running to stay together, but don’t even react to it… they hug… they support each other. Yep, all the signs of a perfectly comfortable friendship, with nothing bubbling under the surface. So, in the first three films, Harry and Hermione are comfortable friends, while Ron and Hermione’s relationship is full of tension. Sounds a lot like canon to me…

GoF is the one that gets me — I simply cannot understand the number of complaints about its romance. The filmmakers carried on from where they left off in PoA, continuing to make things quite clear. Hermione’s gasp of horror and hands-clapped-over-the-mouth moment when she thinks Ron is going to the ball with Fleur, her anguished look back over her shoulder after her first argument with Ron at the ball, Ron’s obvious jealousy of Krum, Hermione bursting into tears of sadness — not anger — as she tells him to ask her next time… they couldn’t have made it much clearer if they tried. The clincher is the fact that a love song about people being afraid to make a move (“Magic Works”) is played in the background as they argue when they storm out of the hall together. Dare I say it… an anvil? Ron and Hermione even have their own love song now, for goodness sake!

I’ve seen people complain about “Harry/Hermione moments” in GoF — but all of these so-called moments are clearly purely platonic, and, more importantly, they are all from somewhere or other in the books. Look at the complaints one-by-one: Hermione hugging Harry in the tent before the task, straight from the ending of PS/SS, before Harry goes to face Voldemort:

Hermione’s lip trembled and she suddenly dashed at Harry and threw her arms around him. PS/SS, UK edition, page 208

Ergo, we have a purely canon hug. Secondly, for some reason, Hermione’s overjoyed reaction to Harry catching the egg seems to get complaints. But that’s from Book 1, too, in a Quidditch match:

“Ron! Ron! Where are you? The game’s over! Harry’s won! We’ve won! Gryffindor are in the lead!” shrieked Hermione, dancing up and down on her seat and hugging Parvati Patil in the row in front. PS/SS, UK edition, page 164

Canon. She gets pretty emotional about the Task in the GoF book, too:

“Harry, you were brilliant!” Hermione said squeakily. There were fingernail marks on her face where she had been clutching it in fear. GoF, UK edition, page 313

Canon. Harry’s amazement at Hermione’s appearance at the Yule Ball? In the book it goes even further — his “jaw drops.” They didn’t even do this in the movie. In fact, watch the scene; Daniel Radcliffe’s reaction is decidedly underplayed, suggesting more surprise than romantic interest, and Mike Newell chooses not to linger on his reaction. It would have been easy to play that scene wrong and make it semi-romantic, but Newell skillfully avoided it. Hermione kissing Harry on the head after the second task, for some reason, also gets complaints. But at the end of the GoF book, she “kissed him on the cheek.” That, then, is almost canon, but even more motherly. So, all of these so-called Harry/Hermione moments are in fact canon moments, taken directly from different books. Please don’t blame Mike Newell or Steve Kloves for them; they’re only being faithful to Jo’s words!

The clinching scene, for me, is the infamous “I’m scared for you” scene on that wonderful bridge. Hermione talks about Krum being a “physical” being. Does Harry get jealous? Annoyed? Does he show any signs of romantic longing for Hermione? Nope, not in the slightest. He laughs. He teases her. And she laughs, too. That scene sums up the brother-sister, almost mother-son relationship between Harry and Hermione perfectly, and should sweep away any questions an audience has about their friendship. In fact, when Hermione is telling Harry she is worried for him, watch his face — he’s annoyed. He wants her to stop nagging him, and is quite relieved when Cedric turns up, so he has an excuse to get away from her overbearing concerns. The moment is very in character, the sort of thing you might see in one of the books, and hardly the most romantic reaction in the world. Then there’s the fact that people who think Harry likes Hermione in GoF have somehow missed all the Harry/Cho moments. I won’t even comment on that.

The point I’m making is, have faith in the filmmakers. They know where it’s going, and they’ve done a superb job so far. Don’t let yourself be fooled by emotional investment in one ship, and loathing of another — look at the movies through objective lenses. The idea that the filmmakers are somehow Harry/Hermione shippers, and that Warner Brothers has pressed things in that direction, is nonsense; the films so far have truly lived up to the canon of these different relationships within the trio. I really applaud them for that, as it would have been easy to get it wrong. No doubt we will have more complaints from fans after OotP, if Hermione dares to grab Harry’s arm in fear in the Grawp scene, or if Cho is jealous of Hermione and Harry’s friendship (canon!), but make no mistake, you won’t be seeing any actual romantic moments between them, just as you haven’t seen any in the last four movies.

So, what of the general audience? Personally, everyone I’ve encountered who has not read the books thinks it is quite obvious that it is going the Ron/Hermione way. Comments from non-readers I have read online also suggest that the general audience can see the truth; one I read specifically noted the brother-sister relationship of Harry and Hermione in GoF. If any audience members think it’s going the Harry/Hermione way, my guess is that’s probably because, until GoF, there was no one else for Harry to fall in love with (with Ginny so sidelined), so they automatically put him with Hermione in their minds. Audiences have certain expectations about cinematic romance, of course, that perhaps do not exist with novel readers. Dan and Emma’s good screen chemistry and natural good looks probably furthered that, and given the recent rise of the romantic comedy, people (especially young people) may expect that the main boy and a girl characters who are good friends will get together. But anyone actually paying attention to the writing, directing and acting cannot fail to miss the sledgehammer Ron/Hermione hints, and the complete lack of any romantic tension or hints at a romance between Harry and Hermione. If you see through all the preconceptions and misconceptions, the truth is very clear.

Ron/Hermione, admittedly, does not yet feel like a “proper romance” — but then, it’s not supposed to. Not yet. If they started writing it as a real romance at this stage, the audience would be very frustrated by the end of OotP. “Why aren’t they together yet?!” This would increase further by the end of HBP. They have to take things slowly, for now. However, so far, the filmmakers are doing a fantastic job at putting Jo’s romances on the big screen, and I can’t wait to see where they go in OotP, and especially HBP, with the excellent Steve Kloves returning. He’s known where the series has been going romance-wise for a long time, Dan seems keen on the Harry/Ginny romance, Emma is clearly a Ron/Hermione shipper and Rupert doesn’t seem to mind. Whether John Williams returns or Patrick Doyle continues, we can expect some great love themes (if it’s Williams, good grief, we could get something special — this is the man who wrote the beautiful love themes for Superman and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones). We could be heading for two great and memorable cinematic teenage romances in the sixth and seventh films, which hopefully won’t feel like the overdone teen comedy romances we’re used to seeing in the movies these days. That in itself is surely something to be exited about.