The time is perfect for a really well done Harry Potter fan film, and Kelsey Ellison’s short feature Sisters of House Black delivers that. You should watch it before the copyright police find out.
The movie opens right after Voldemort is apparently killed while trying to murder Harry Potter to avert the prophecy of his eventual defeat. In the House of Black, Bellatrix Lestrange (Kelsey Ellison) begins to comb through memories of her and her sisters by using a pensieve.
What results is a disjointed but highly entertaining ride through three powerful and influential witches in the Wizard World, including how one became the most dreaded lieutenant in Voldemirt’s racist quest for supremacy. In addition to Bellatrix is Andromeda (Abbi-Kaye Ellison), who eventually betrays her family’s blood purity doctrine to marry a Muggle-born, and Narcissa (Hannah Snow), who will go on to be the mother of Draco Malfoy and eventually turn on Voldemort in order to save her son.
The film’s strengths are its three main actors, who express a deep love and appreciation for the Wizard World at the same time as they dabble in a type of magical Jane Austenism. The complicated relationship that the sisters have to themselves and their lineage is constantly at war with their love for one another as they each grow into their own lives. Bellatrix receives some slight redemption, having been constantly memory-wiped by their abusive father to the point of madness, but she is also centered as an active participant in the violence and torture that dominated Voldemort’s reign of terror.
Speaking of Voldemort, Bob Hurford has a gloriously-sinister turn as the Dark Lord when Bellatrix attempts to join his terrorist cell. He challenges her to a duel, and effect-wise this is where the movie shines the best. Though low-budget and simple, the scene is nonetheless a tense fight that moves with the grace of a tango that frankly outclasses some of the wand work in the earliest of the Potter films. Unfortunately, a three-way duel between the Black Sisters near the end is a much more amateur affair and is one of the few times watching that it felt like an elaborate LARP.
Nonetheless, the care and love of the source material is what makes all the difference here. Right now we’re living through a painful big budget continuation of the Potter films. Fantastic Beasts was decent, but the Crimes of Grindelwald was nigh-unwatchable. I’m not saying that no one in the new series likes Harry Potter, but it’s so busy trying to be socially relevant or flashily period that it neglects most of the good character development. I get more enjoyment watching Let’s Plays of LEGO Harry Potter games than I do from the last two films.
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Fans are starving for something with heart, and Sisters of House Black has that in spades. It’s nowhere near perfect. The pensieve framing device doesn’t work for its 40-minute running time, and feels more like a trick to cover bad pacing and editing. Ellison’s Bellatrix evolves well over the course of the movie, but at the end she’s abandoned her own amazing performance for a hyperactive Helena Bonham Carter impression that is kind of hammy. This is very much not a Hollywood fan film like Dan Trachtenberg’s Portal: No Escape or Kevin Tancharoen’s Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.
It’s something more wholesome than that, and while they have fewer resources and talents to pour into it they do pour everything they have to the last drop. Sisters of House Black is clever, sincere, well-acted, and just plain fun to watch. If you ever wondered what a BBC production of Harry Potter would look like, well, here it is. What they lack in movie magic they make up for in a compelling family drama amidst a drastically changing world. The tale of how these three women conducted themselves in the wizarding wars is a potent brew.
You can see it (for now) below.