David Holmes’s story, The Boy Who Lived, is a poignant account of the Harry Potter stuntman who suffered a neck injury.
If I were able to hold your hand at this moment, I would. Life is difficult, isn’t it?” David Holmes is currently in a hospital, a place he has visited numerous times since becoming paralyzed in an accident 14 years ago. The spinal injury that resulted in the loss of use of his legs has also caused him to lose sensation in his right arm. He is deeply concerned that the same may be happening to his left arm, which a nurse is currently massaging. However, his main worry is for the nurse herself. He is aware that she recently experienced the loss of a friend due to Covid, as he took the time to inquire about it.
Holmes, now 40, was Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double on the Harry Potter movies until he broke his neck during the filming of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. On the surface, David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived is another of those documentaries where someone who has experienced a grave misfortune inspires everyone around them with their determination, selflessness and charity work. But it ends up as something tougher and heavier: a frank reckoning of a life – of several lives – remodelled by trauma.
Initially, we reminisce about the incredible times when a small child from Essex found his path to movie stunt work through youth gymnastics. Holmes, being a few years older than Radcliffe, took on the role of both an older brother and a personal trainer during their time working on the Potter franchise. He mentored Radcliffe on how to make his physical performances more believable and also shared with him and anyone around how to fully enjoy life by throwing oneself into it with vigor. The comparison of Holmes and Radcliffe performing the same stunt, with Radcliffe doing a less risky version, offers a captivating glimpse into the process of creating action sequences.
Suddenly, disaster strikes. We witness Holmes wearing a wired harness, about to be forcefully pulled back into a padded wall by a weighted pulley that is carrying too much weight. Right as the mechanism is triggered, the screen abruptly goes dark – and this marks the beginning of Holmes’ new life and the start of the film. A few days after the accident, the remarkably optimistic Holmes is seen in his hospital bed, coming up with games for himself and a young, delicate-looking Radcliffe to keep their spirits up. In present day, he shares his philosophy of staying positive and engaged, leading to several heartwarming moments, such as the one with the nurse.
The movie also explores Holmes’s relationships with his friends. Radcliffe is honest and expressive about the difficulties of rebuilding a friendship when the shared experience that it was based on has suddenly ended and been affected negatively. He reflects on his thoughts during the early visits, trying to stay positive without being indifferent, while also confronting and moving past the uncomfortable topic that everyone in the room wants to avoid. Radcliffe becomes emotional as he talks about those times when life is simply about being there for others, rather than trying to fix things.
It can be challenging to support loved ones during tough times. Some of the most emotional scenes in the movie are when stunt coordinator Greg Powell, who was in charge on the day Holmes was injured, struggles to be around him. During a rare visit to Holmes’s home, there is a palpable sense of discomfort and unspoken apologies. Outside, Powell breaks down in front of the film’s director Dan Hartley, overcome with guilt and grief. He regrets ever meeting Holmes, whom he clearly cares for like a son, and blames himself for ruining his life. He believes that if he hadn’t been involved, Holmes would be living a happy life now.
This thought-provoking movie follows the impact of Holmes’s injury in all aspects. Radcliffe and Holmes admit they were not aware of the emotional toll it took on junior Potter stuntman Marc Mailley to step in and complete the rest of the Deathly Hallows shoot. However, The Boy Who Lived finds solace in how friends support each other when one of them falls, and it acknowledges that the person who is supposed to be taken care of often becomes the caretaker for everyone else.
During the final scene, Holmes, Radcliffe, Mailley, and Tolga Kenan, a colleague from Potter, are seen facing the possibility of Holmes’s paralysis worsening together. Despite being the one they are mourning, Holmes guides them through their grief and ensures their well-being. This film showcases many admirable qualities of Holmes, but his kindness stands out as the most valuable.