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‘David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived’ puts spotlight on paralyzed ‘Harry Potter’ stuntman

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — “David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived” operates on so many levels it’s hard to sort this HBO documentary into just one house. Alternately uplifting and devastating, a warm reminiscence about the Harry Potter franchise and a glimpse into child stardom, it’s finally a tribute to its namesake, who concludes that he’d “better tell my story, or it won’t be told.”

Holmes’ story involves serving as Daniel Radcliffe’s primary stunt double on the Potter movies, before a tragic accident on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in 2009 left him paralyzed, facing a series of surgeries and a gradually deteriorating condition.

Produced by Radcliffe, the documentary highlights the bond that he forged with Holmes, a few years older and a trained gymnast, during the making of the films, as well as the impact of Holmes’ accident on the other stunt people left grappling with varying levels of guilt and heartbreak.

Director David Hartley manages to turn the project into a kind of dual portrait, revealing the friendships between Radcliffe and the crew, as he heard rumblings regarding the pitfalls of childhood stardom and sought to avoid them; and Holmes’ life both before and after the accident, a tale mixed with resilience and grief.

Some of the Potter nostalgia, obviously, was covered in the Max reunion special, “Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts,” which also dealt with the loss of several actors associated with the franchise. Holmes, however, represents a different situation, made more poignant by the interviews with his parents, the home movies of him bounding about as a youth, and behind-the-scenes footage as he stands in for Radcliffe riding a wind-machine-buffeted broom, having yearned for nothing more than to become a stunt man.

“It is unfair,” Radcliffe says, exhibiting a British gift for understatement, discussing the challenges of staying upbeat and positive when seeing Holmes while realizing everything he sacrificed to do what he loved.

“’Harry Potter’ is a big thing for a lot of people, and nobody knows what happened to me,” Holmes says near the outset.

“David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived” should help correct that oversight, but it does so in a way that might make it difficult to escape into the magic of a “Harry Potter” movie again – at least, without pausing to think about the harsh reality of the smiling boy behind the one that audiences came to know in those round glasses.

“David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived” premieres November 15 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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