Director: David Yates
Screenwriters: J. K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Carmen Ejogo, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Josh Cowdery
UK release date: November 18, 2016
The Big Apple
New York in the ‘20s was all gangsters peddling illegal grog, bankers on window ledges and posh socialites dancing about to the Charleston with saucers of champagne on their heads, right? Wrong! It was actually a world of magic, beasties and wizardly types casting outlandish spells and summoning other beasties from realms too fantastical to even imagine. That’s the premise of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spinoff, a 128-page novella penned in 2001.
If the idea of prequelling The Hunger Games franchise looks like an attempt to grind more cash from a franchise at its logical end, this Harry Potter spin-off is a different animal. For starters, there’s no Katniss – or Harry – here. Newt Scamander is a new character to many but he's already subtly woven into the Potterverse. Then there’s been the challenge of world-building afresh. Fantastic Beasts is set a continent, and seven decades, away from the Privet Drive, Diagon Alley and Hogwarts of Harry Potter. It’s part of the HCU (Harry Cinematic Universe) but very much its own, well, beast.
Roughly six bazillion fans definitely weren’t complaining when Warner Bros. announced its Harry Potter spinoff-prequel-type-thing late in 2013. With J.K. Rowling screenwriting, David Yates and David Heyman producing, the creative DNA would remain the same, but the cast of characters renewed. Oh, and there’ll be more thestrals and billywigs too. "It’s a beautiful script,” enthused Yates to Pottermore. “These characters are special, they’re really moving and funny. You see bits of yourself in them, or you see people you know.”
Newt. My name's Newt…
Move over Harry, there’s a new hero in town. Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is a name familiar to eagle-eyed Potter fans – his tome Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them was one of Harry’s Hogwarts textbooks in The Philosopher's Stone and his name popped up later on the Marauder's Map in The Prisoner Of Azkaban - but aside from being a magizoologist born in the dying embers of the 19th century, not too much is known of his deeds. Yet.
Map to the star? Scamander's name popped up on a magical document in The Prisoner Of Azkaban.
We do know that Redmayne’s Newt was expelled from Hogwarts (Hufflepuff) and is now a well-travelled writer - part Phileas Fogg, part Dr. Dolittle - with a battered valise filled with magical critters and an air of absent-minded goodwill. We’ll find him in 1926, washing up in New York for the first time. The trailer shows him smuggling his menagerie through Ellis Island with the help of a handy ‘muggle’ switch on his case, but while we’ve had a glimpse of its Tardis-like capacity (Samsonite definitely do not make these), his animals are still under wraps.
“Newt has just completed a global journey to find and document magical creatures for a book he plans on writing,” producer David Heyman tells Empire. “His case is important because it contains some of the creatures he’s been researching. It may be small, but there’s a whole world within.”
Newt’s menagerie will not be under wraps for long. Even for a city inured to rampages by everything from the Chitauri to Ghostbusters’ terror dogs, they’re likely to cause a sizeable kerfuffle in the Big Apple. Scamander, summoned to New York to meet a member of the Magical Congress Of The United States Of America (MACUSA) - the US equivalent of the Ministry Of Magic - will have some explaining to do if one of his graphorns eats Josephine Baker.
The MACUSA logo as debuted in J.K. Rowling's Magic In America on Pottermore.
Fortunately, he’ll have a guide in shy, career-focused MACUSA functionary Porpentina ‘Tina' Goldstein (Inherent Vice’s Waterston). She’s had the fortitude to stand up to one of MACUSA’s nastier elements but at the cost of a demotion. Expect her to be a key ally for Newt as the the MACUSA send their best Auror, the slick-looking Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), to call him to account for the carnage.
Will politicians like Josh Cowdery's Senator Shaw clamp down on the magical realm?
Oh, and the villains? Farrell's may or may not turn out to represent the darker forces at work, and President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo), the head of America's wizarding world is likely to be a little miffed about these developments too, but the nastiest threat may come from the Muggle world. The New Salem Philanthropic Society, a McCarthyite-like No-Maj group, has deliberate echoes of the 17th century witch trials in its attempts to eradicate magic in all its guises. Will Newt be shackled, hauled in front of a kangaroo court and then burnt at the stake? Hopefully not. No-one wants to see a crispy fried Redmayne.
The supporting cast
Stand-up Dan Fogler plays Newt’s No-Maj friend Jacob Kowalski - likely to be the franchise’s most substantial Muggle character so far - while singer–songwriter–turned–actress Alison Sudol makes her movie debut as Tina’s younger sis, Queenie. “Glamorous and somehow worldly but innocent” is how Yates describes her character. Warner Bros.' The Flash, Ezra Miller, plays a mysterious wizard rumoured to be called Credence, and Samantha Morton his adoptive mum Mary Lou. Both are involved in some capacity with the New Salem Philanthropic Society.
Left to right: Ezra Miller, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell and Katherine Waterston.
Josh Cowdery plays Senator Henry Shaw – the Shaw we see campaigning for high office in the trailer (above) – and Jon Voight is Henry Shaw Sr., his dad. Where they, and their political clout, end up siding could hold the fate of the magical realm.
Make no mistake, though, this is the Redmayne show. Yates has already talked about building a cast around him. "When I read J.K. Rowling’s script, I just had my mind blown,” recalls the actor. "I was so excited by it. The amazing thing was that I found it funny, I found it a thriller, I found it romantic. At the end, I was deeply moved by it.”
The other supporting cast
Understandably, Warner Bros. is keeping the movie's fantastic beasts close to its chest in the marketing to date. The trailer has given us a glimpse of the niffler, a larcenous, hedgehog-like critter with an eye for shiny trinkets that Hagrid introduced in The Goblet Of Fire. Gliding through a crypt in the trailer was a kaleidoscopic bird called a Swooping Evil. There’ll be many others, the winged thestrals and stinging billywigs among them, although we’ll have to wait to find out which ones will feature. Could that carnage at the political rally in the trailer be the work of an erumpent?
Spellbound: director David Yates and Alison Sudol on set.
Despite the impressive exteriors on display in the trailer, Fantastic Beasts has been shot largely at Harry Potter’s spiritual home of Leavesden Studios. Liverpool’s St. George’s Hall and Cunard Building have also been used to stand in for New York’s grand wizard HQs.
The latest image for the film finds Newt Scamander surveying the New York skyline. Check it out here.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is conceived as the first part of an old-fashioned trilogy, with Rowling penning two further Scamander adventures. Don’t necessarily expect all the loose ends tied up neatly at the end of this one. It’s landing in our cinemas on November 18.