Review: A Unique Friendship and Immense Challenge Chronicled in David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived

Part coming-of-age story, part behind-the-scenes of the Harry Potter movies, and part inspirational tale about living with persistent adversity, David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived tells the story of a teenage gymnast who wanted to be a stuntman from an early age and ended up being chosen as Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double for the first Harry Potter movie, when Radcliffe was only 11 years old. The two became the closest of friends over the course of the next 10 years and the production of most of the films, until Holmes was injured in a wire-work accident that left him paralyzed, completely changing the trajectory of his life.

The film documents Holmes’ slow and painful adjustment to his new world, with Radcliffe, Holmes’ closest stunt colleagues, and his family rallying around him to this day. In return, David’s energy and spirit became an undeniable source of strength for his friends as they go through their own moments of doubt over the years.

Directed by Dan Hartley (Lad: A Yorkshire Story), a video playback operator on Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts movies, The Boy Who Lived delivers unfiltered personal footage shot over those 10 years, as well as candid interviews with Radcliffe and others discussing the ways in which Holmes pushed them to thrive in their given fields. Radcliffe’s remembrances are especially emotional, as he recalls questioning whether playing Harry Potter would be both the beginning and end of his career, and Holmes inspiring him to try out different types of acting work moving forward. It’s clear from observing their visits and conversations that these two are genuinely close, and although Radcliffe doesn’t live in England any longer, he cherishes the times when he gets back to visit his friend.

As Holmes' condition gradually worsens, surgery is required to stop him from losing any more of his arm strength, which triggers a series of hospital visits and additional surgeries that leave his condition touch-and-go for a while. It’s a genuinely tense part of the film that leaves us thrilled when he comes out of it, although he is exhausted and somewhat defeated when he realizes that this is his life. Even someone with a seemingly endless supply of positivity can get incredibly down, and those are the moments when his friends swoop in to cheer him up. It’s a support system we’d all be lucky to have.

The film ends with Radcliffe taking Holmes on a very special tour of a particularly significant warehouse, where they can remember their shared history and the years during which they became so close. Potter fans are going to lose their collective minds during this sequence, but anyone with a functioning heart is probably going to be in tears, regardless of their connection to those movies. The Boy Who Lived moves effortlessly from heartbreaking to hilarious, often in the same scene, providing a complete emotional journey the likes of which are rarely seen in films about tough guys doing tough-guy things like dangerous stunts.

The film is now streaming on Max.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.