A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story chronicles Rowling's journey as writer, first as a precocious teen developing her voice and later as a single mother struggling to find time to write. In scenes of her teenage years, there's a fight with a bully, some casual smoking and drinking, and then later, as an adult, a scene of domestic abuse with her first husband in front of her infant daughter. She also experiences her mother's diagnosis of MS and death. However, the focus is on the genesis of the Harry Potter series and Rowling's frustrations as a developing writer. Fans of the series will find satisfying chronology here and an inspirational tale of "making it," but aspiring writers may be disappointed by the lack of insight into Rowling's craft.
What's the story?
J.K. Rowling (Poppy Montgomery) knew from a young age that she wanted to write, but it would be years before she would produce the series that would become the bestselling books in history. Here, we see her humble beginnings as a precocious child, her flights of fancy as an awkward teenager, and her incredible determination as a single mother on welfare caring for her infant daughter as she struggles to develop as a writer and make time to find her voice.
Is it any good?
MAGIC BEYOND WORDS: THE J.K. ROWLING STORY checks off all the right boxes in telling Rowling's rags-to-riches tale. We see Rowling as a young child playing games of magic, a teenager with a red-headed friend she says is a bit weasel-y, and a young woman on a train ride dreaming of a young wizard. Sprinkled throughout are the filmmaker's notions of where Rowling may have found inspiration for various characters -- a stern lecturer here, a stodgy bureaucrat there. But since this film is unauthorized, it's hard to say how accurate it is outside of Rowling's public accounts of the genesis of her books. And the writing process or what those early drafts were about, or how she hashed out the story, is keenly absent from the film. Additionally, the filmmakers make the creative process look tidy, as if the story comes easily enough but the real struggle is simply finding the time to jot it down.
Fans may be enthralled no matter what to see this depiction of Rowling's stomping grounds and the flourishes of Potter throughout, but casual observers may feel the result is more surface recounting than probing revelation. There are some heavy themes, with Rowling's mother's death and some scenes of domestic violence, and it's exciting to see anyone spend years struggling as a writer only to finally make the big sale that changes everything. Still, would-be writers looking to gain insight into craft will be disappointed, as this is a story mainly concerned with getting Rowling to the point of the first movie debut, and it's less interested in helping us understand how Rowling managed to imagine what became the most successful books ever sold.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes the Harry Potter books so successful. Why do you think they're the bestselling books of all time?
What were the main obstacles for Rowling as a writer? Was it her own self-doubt, her circumstances, both, or something else?
Did you notice any parallels between Rowling's life and the characters in the Harry Potter books? If so, what are they?
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