One of the most important questions when a book is transformed into a film is whether or not the film remains true to the spirit of the original. The Harry Potter books have been extremely popular across the globe, making their adaptation to the medium of film particularly subject to scrutiny. One of the major criticisms of the books has been the way in which they promote conservative gender roles, making this issue of interest when comparing the books to their film adaptations. Explorations of this issue often focus on the character of Hermione, as she is central character in the stories. This paper will argue that Hermione’s portrayal in the first film, The Sorcerer’s Stone, is conservative and limiting for female viewers, upholding traditional patriarchal roles for women even more so than the original book version does.
The story of both the film and book versions of The Sorcerer’s Stone is very simple, dealing with central themes of life such as good and evil, courage and loyalty, friendship and grief. Because of the leading role played by the character of Hermione, she provides viewers with a model for how women and girls can relate to and respond to these themes. In terms of both her physical appearance and her actions, the adaptation of Hermione’s character into film has exaggerated the conservative and limiting gender role portrayal of the book.
In the original book, the character of Hermione is presented as both highly intelligent and academic, but also socially awkward, tactless and officious. Learning to overcome these shortcomings is crucial to Hermione’s character development in both the book and the film, modelling for viewers the important concept of female identity and relationships. However, the film is frequently criticised for the way in which casting, make-up and costume have contributed to a physical construction of character which undermines the portrayal of these critical personality traits. Critics have suggested that the casting and physical construction of Hermione’s character within The Sorcerer’s Stone as cute, pretty, and physically appealing negates the struggle her character experiences for the formation of identity and relationships, making it seem shallow and trivial; by diluting this crucial aspect of the book, the film presents a role model which is limiting and conservative (Alexander 18). Hermione’s transformation from a socially awkward child into one who is attractive and engaging in the first place suggests that to be significant as a female it is necessary to be attractive, and in the second place suggests that the process of forming identity and relationships for girls involves aligning physical appearance with social behaviour. From a feminist perspective, these ideas are highly problematic, and indicate the ways in which the film supports limiting and conservative gender roles and ideas.
Hermione’s actions within the film have also exaggerated the conservativeness of her character as portrayed in the book. As the only female within the trio of main protagonists, it is clear that Hermione lacks the agency of her male counterparts. In the books, Hermione often plays a supporting role, but is also occasionally an essential participant in the action. Critics have argued that in the film, Hermione’s character has been simplified, reducing her agency and rendering her as nothing more than a secondary support for the main hero of the story, Harry (Alexander 17). Such critics argue that “the filmic Hermione is more often than not sidelined as a character in the franchise” (Alexander, 2012, p. 19). Her actions within the film, such as performing the spell that unlocks the door behind which the entrance to the maze is hidden, or solving the final riddle of the maze, are portrayed as supporting actions only, with the main focus being instead on Harry’s development as a wizard and as a hero. In contrast, little attention is devoted to Hermione’s development of both personality and skill, leaving her character two-dimensional and her role as a heroine limited. The overall message is that, in spite of both skill, courage and loyalty, the heroine’s role is merely to support the development of the male hero.
In comparing the film adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Stone to the book, therefore, it can be seen that far from improving the limited portrayal of gender roles, the film has in fact exaggerated the conservatism of the book, offering viewers an extremely narrow vision of female identity and agency.
- Alexander, J. “The Filmic Heroine.” Hermione Granger Saves the World: Essays on the Feminist Heroine of Hogwarts. Ed. C. E. Bell. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. Inc., 2012. 16-33. Print.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Prod. D. Heyman. Dir. C. Columbus. Warner Brothers, 2001. Film.
- Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998. Print.