The Serpentine Perspective: Bellatrix Lestrange

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Happy St Andrew’s Day. There’s no 31st in November so I contemplated posting on the last Saturday and then I was like, nah. I had Voltage stories to read to my long-suffering husband, who has now taken a liking to Dr Hosho because he wears “proper clothes” (cit.) On a side note, the English Language really needs an option to specify you are quoting even when it’s not trying to show there’s an error and it was quoted verbatim. Of course, as a Takado fangirl, I am having none of it, and I will eventually prevail on him to love the (MTV remake) Patrick Verona of Semei University Hospital. Alas, the topic today is a fictional character, but not an otome one. We’re here to talk about how Helena Bonham Carter has saved the only villainess of the Harry Potter Universe from oblivion.

Let’s start with the basics. “She was a witch, as Harry knew, with prodigious skill and no conscience.” To say that Bellatrix Lestrange (née Black) was unhinged would be to put it mildly. She makes Wednesday Addams appear like a sweet little child. Her appearance as described in the novels may be more Morticia than the curly-haired crazy woman of the films, but few actresses could make a convincing portrayal of such a villainess. To an extent, a lot of what is said in the novel about her reads almost like a parody. I wonder if she was, in fact, who J.K. Rowlings had in mind when painting Bellatrix, only to manage to never do her justice until she herself could do so. 

After all, she was Ophelia in the Zeffirelli Hamlet. Perhaps a little bit of niche content, but what do you expect from me? Unless this is the first time you stumble upon this blog, in which case you must know I am all about the niche content. You won’t find much about the Kardashians here. Anyway, Ophelia. Not an unhinged sadistic villainess, but a mentally unstable young woman nonetheless. Anyway, someone else is in that film, playing another character from the history of literature that I am sure had an impression on our dear writer: Glenn Close as Queen Gertrude. Sit there trying to forget that Mel Gibson is in that film, and the mash-up of these two women gives you the ideal raw material from which to develop Bellatrix. 

It’s just my theory, anyway, and I believe it has more legs to stand on than a lot of conspiracy theories that go around the internet so there’s that. Anyway, I like the way in which Bellatrix is depicted as becoming less beautiful the more evil she becomes (partly because, well, Azkaban), rather than having a portrait ageing for her, although I would have also loved that literary cameo (of course). But I digress. The point of this rambling was how the film version of Bellatrix made the character better rather than worse (which is the case for pretty much everyone other than the villains),

J.K. Rowlings doesn’t know how to write villains (at least in the context of a children novel). There, I said it. She’s good with fluff, and she tried to write villains only to complain that girls loved Draco Malfoy when she meant for him to be hated. You’re just not good at writing people that one can hate, love. She either makes them appealing or pitiful.  Bellatrix is sort of both. On the one hand, she is pitiful, but on the other hand she is kinda appealing in her unwavering loyalty to Voldy. Which is also one of the things that make you pity her, because it’s not like things will go well for her because of it. However, the film version manages to draw out the negative feelings that a villain is supposed to draw out. Which the book managed to elicit once when it describes her sitting in the chair at her trial like a queen on her throne, although I also lowkey admire that. 

What I truly love about film Bellatrix is that she is very expressive and theatrical without being so theatrical she is farcical even when the situation she is in pushes the boundary of what is believable. Bellatrix as a character can be a little cartoonish, for lack of a better word, but Bonham Carter brings her always back down to earth because of her own presence as a woman being just somewhat subdued and noble. She’s the kind of person who would have a hard time making a believable trashy woman, all the characters she played who are trashy women are still elegant. And if you don’t believe me, you should watch Toast, the biographical film about Nigel Slater’s childhood, in which she plays a trashy housewife. 

Here’s all I had to say about Bellatrix, which may or may not make sense. Head over to According to Rory for its companion post about Molly Weasley.

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