Ode to Dolores Umbridge
I love villains in movies and literature. I have always thought a bad guy says a lot about a film’s protagonist and to a certain extent that film’s writers and directors. A poor villain can render a story meaningless in my eye.
I don’t think the Harry Potter series, book or film, gets a proper bonafide superstar villain until Dolores Umbridge strolls into town with her cats and her pink outfit. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Snape, the Dursley and Wormtail are note-worthy, but it was only until this pint-size puff of pink evil comes along when I realised how lacking those other villains were.
Order of the Phoenix is my least favourite Harry Potter book. It’s the book that I found hardest to get through and I just didn’t think it was as enjoyable as the rest. One of the biggest reasons for this was Dolores Umbridge – she just rubbed me the wrong way.
I found Dolores Umbridge a lot more unsettling that the chief big-bad, Voldemort. Her main goal wasn’t the stereotypical ‘rule the world’ arch; her main ambition was to suppress the soul in order to achieve conformity from young people. To Umbridge creativity, curiosity and resourcefulness in a student are a sin and this makes me shudder. The extent to which she goes about draining those sins away from students was just horrific to read.
Conversely, watching Dolores Umbridge in the film version of Order of the Pheonix is a joy and all of the credit for that goes to Imelda Staunton who is beyond brilliant in this movie. I have to say it again, she is bloody brilliant in Order of the Phoenix.
Now the fact that I couldn’t stand to read Phoenix because of Umbridge isn’t a slight on Rowling, in my opinion it is a compliment but what Imelda does to that character is root her in the real world.
Back when I was in secondary school there was a group of friends who were so nasty and were such bullies but they walked around like their shit didn’t stink. They were so far up the teachers’ ass and got away with causing so much chaos that it is incredible to think about it now so many years on. What made them insufferable for me was how they interacted with people, especially the folks they bullied – they used charm and sweetness. They were super nice on the surface – all Ps and Qs and smiles and kisses and high pitched greetings (think Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless). Pure fakeness.
Now I have seen this type of fakeness in a more subtly form within the work place but Imelda’s take on Umbridge brings back the anger that I had for those unique bullies back in school. Staunton got under my skin (see what I did there) so much that I forgot that it was an actor playing a character and believed Dolores to be an actual person. When an actor can make you feel-it-in-your-gut then they have done a remarkable thing.
By the end of the film I wanted Umbridge to suffer. I felt the same loathing that Harry and co felt and I realised that I haven’t come close to feeling the same way about Voldemort – not in the films anyway. Umbridge, in one film, shows more menace, ability to cause horror and gave me more of a sense of dread than Voldemort does in the whole series. I mean no disrespect to Ralph Fiennes who I feel does a good job but I think what Umbridge shows is how woefully underdeveloped the big V is.
When the horsey human creatures get a hold of Umbridge in the end of Phoenix I wanted them to rip her to pieces – I wanted to see blood everywhere. Tarantino style. The fact that I feel that way about a children’s film is the biggest compliment I can pay Imelda Staunton and The Order of the Phoenix. She is nothing short of a wonder in this film.