Protecting the Portrayal of Petunia

Exploring the moments overlooked in the transition from the Harry Potter books to films, one pivotal scene stands out: Petunia’s promise. Aunt Petunia, a character often met with disdain by fans, is portrayed in the movies as cold, distant, and seemingly indifferent to the plight of Harry, whom she begrudgingly cares for. However, the books provide a richer understanding of her character, revealing the complexities behind her actions and delving into her strained relationship with the wizarding world.

Petunia’s greatest act is not just a singular event but a culmination of her character development throughout the series. Book readers will recall the significance of the phrase “REMEMBER MY LAST, PETUNIA” (OOTP 40), which serves as a poignant reminder of Petunia’s involvement in Harry’s life. This phrase alludes to the letter that Albus Dumbledore left with baby Harry when he was placed on the Dursleys’ doorstep, elucidating the ancient magic invoked by Lily’s sacrifice to protect her son. As Lily’s only remaining blood relative, Petunia becomes an unexpected guardian tasked with shielding Harry from the looming threat of Voldemort. 

In the books, Petunia’s character is written with shades of resentment, jealousy, and bitterness toward her sister, Lily, who possessed magical abilities that she herself lacked. This jealousy permeates her treatment of Harry, whom she views as a constant reminder of her own inadequacy and the stark contrast between her mundane existence and the magical world she was excluded from. However, amidst her hostility and resentment, there are glimpses of compassion, particularly obvious when readers see the reason behind her accepting Harry into her home.

The omission of Petunia’s complexity from the films diminishes her character to a mere caricature of the archetypal villain: the “evil stepmother.” Movie audiences miss the opportunity to witness the layers of Petunia’s character unfold as they are revealed to readers throughout the series. Despite her flaws and shortcomings, book Petunia’s actions reveal a nuanced portrayal of familial duty, sacrifice, and, ultimately, redemption.

By overlooking Petunia’s character development, her film portrayal falls short of capturing the depth and complexity depicted in the books. It will be interesting to see whether or not, in the upcoming TV adaptation, Petunia will be portrayed with the depth and nuance befitting her character.

Maria Matsakis

As a Gryffindor, a Potterhead, and a fan of MuggleNet, I am so excited to be a part of the team! Thank you to the viewers who make this website a joy to be a part of. Here's to a new age of wizards and witches- until the very end!