[DOC NYC 2023] DAVID HOLMES: THE BOY WHO LIVED -- A Hopeful, Moving Documentary About Life After Adversity
Review by Sean Boelman
There are few franchises with as much of a lasting impact on the world as the Harry Potter series, but for some people, that impact is extremely personal. David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived tells the story of a former stuntman with a personal, tragic connection to the franchise, but in a way that does not feel exploitative or pandering whatsoever.
David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived tells the story of David Holmes, who got the job of his dreams when he was selected to be Daniel Radcliffe’s lead stunt double in the Harry Potter franchise, only for his world to come crashing down around him when he suffered a traumatic spinal injury. The film is refreshingly uncynical, feeling little need to tug at the audience’s heartstrings.
It is also surprising how non-promotional this documentary is considering that it is executive produced by Radcliffe himself and distributed by a subsidiary of the studio behind the Harry Potter movies. Although there are many points at which Holmes remembers his experiences on set fondly, it always feels authentic and never like it’s crassly taking advantage of Holmes’s trauma.
The most compelling aspect of the story is the friendship that has formed between Radcliffe and Holmes. It’s interesting to see how the friendship formed as Radcliffe idolized the older gymnast-turned-stuntman Holmes, and now how they remain in touch even after Radcliffe has become a megastar.
Of course, fans who are looking to see behind-the-scenes footage of the making of Harry Potter are going to be satisfied, as the first half of the film does focus on Holmes’s career before his injury. Even for those who are not fans of the Wizarding World, the documentary offers some fascinating insight into the life and work of stunt people.
Still, it is the second half of the documentary that is likely to leave the most lingering impact on the viewer. It is a story of triumph over adversity; of the hopefulness that Holmes showed despite his life changing fundamentally because of this tragic accident. The emphasis on the work Holmes has done, with the help of Radcliffe, to advocate for greater awareness around these injuries and improving the experience of survivors.
Because the film is being released by HBO, the filmmakers had access to a large library of behind-the-scenes footage from the production of the Harry Potter movies. This, combined with talking head interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage of Holmes and Radcliffe’s advocacy work allows this story to be told in a straightforward, yet consistently powerful way.
Despite the hesitancy with which one would be reasonable to approach this documentary, considering that it is being distributed by the creators of a franchise it is somewhat critical of, David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived manages to be a surprisingly no-holds-barred, moving film. What could have been a fluff piece is instead a touching, hopeful, essential movie that serves as a reminder of the power of resilience.
David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived is screening at the 2023 edition of DOC NYC, which runs in-person and online from November 8-26.