The Harry Potter films included many talented actors, even some in small roles, but few are as underused as Emma Thompson. The renowned actress takes on the minor part of Professor Sybill Trelawney, who teaches divination to the students of Hogwarts. But the character appears in only three of the eight Harry Potter films; even then, she is never in the forefront. With such a large cast, several phenomenal actors don't get the time they deserve in the film series. But even among these, Thompson's situation is the most severe as her character is both unique and significant to the plot in ways the films didn't explore. Throughout the film series, Professor Trelawney and her unique ability to see the future are criminally underused. The nature of an adaptation is to deviate at least somewhat from the source material, and Harry Potter is no different. A lot had to be cut for the films, much to the anger of fans. But in the case of Trelawney, it really should have stayed, especially with the talent of Emma Thompson in the role.
What Did Emma Thompson's Professor Trelawney Do in the Harry Potter Movies?
The most memorable parts of Emma Thompson's role take place in Trelawney's classroom, where she teaches the art of Divinations. While she explains that few people have the ability to read the future, she claims to be one of them. However, many people believe her to be a fraud. Her classroom predictions mostly center on something terrible happening to Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), and she seems to foretell a student's death yearly. Throughout Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Trelawney comes into conflict with Hermione (Emma Watson), who doesn't do well in Divinations, despite excelling in every other class. But Trelawney's most important part of that film is when Harry witnesses her prediction that the servant would return to his master. Though Trelawney is in a trance and doesn't remember her prophecy, it does come true when Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall) escapes to reunite with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
Afterward, Trelawney disappears until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when she must contend with Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who doubts her abilities. Trelawney can be found in the montage of Umbridge evaluating the teachers and is later the first one Umbridge fires. As Umbridge tries to kick her out of the castle, she is rescued by McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). But it is in this film where Trelawney becomes more important than before, as she was the one who gave the prophecy that Voldemort wants. This is the key to Trelawney's importance. The prophecy set the entire plot into motion. Because of Trelawney, Voldemort killed Harry's parents, making Harry the Chosen One. It's also the beginning of Severus Snape's (Alan Rickman) redemption, as Dumbledore catches him overhearing the prophecy, and Snape eventually turns to Dumbledore for help. The Chosen One prophecy is the reason Trelawney gained Dumbledore's trust and got her job at Hogwarts, but beyond that, it is a critical part of Harry's origins, for which Trelawney should receive credit. Despite all of this, little screen time is given to Professor Trelawney, which is not only a missing opportunity to explore the character's importance to the plot, but also a huge waste of Emma Thompson's enormous talent.
Thompson's last — and brief — appearance is in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, in which Professor Trelawney is defending the castle in the Battle of Hogwarts. But her role is diminished from the books as the films do not take the time to explore the irony of a character who spends her life pretending to read the future, only to forget her actual moments of prophecy. The films don't explore divination as a whole, despite Hermione not being good at it. The rare ability has a huge impact on the plot, with both Trelawney's known prophecies being fulfilled — but the talent doesn't get the emphasis it should. In a series about wizards, it seems like more time should have been spent on the strange facets of magic. In the Harry Potter book series, Trelawney issues several more predictions that occur, including Dumbledore's death. When she is invited to join the Christmas dinner at Hogwarts, she refuses because she says when thirteen sit at the table, the first to stand will also be the first to die. Unknown to anyone, there are thirteen already sitting, as Peter Pettigrew is in rat form, and Dumbledore is first to stand, and later, he dies before any of the others, making her prophecy true.
Emma Thompson Is Not the Only Underused Actor in the Harry Potter Series
Professor Trelawney is one of many characters who had important plot threads cut despite the talents of their actors. Others appeared in a small fraction of the films. Kenneth Branagh's Gilderoy Lockhart was central to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Branagh portrayed the character flawlessly, but his reappearance in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was cut. Jason Isaacs unquestionably made the perfect Lucius Malfoy but did not appear nearly as much in the films as he did in the books — as a Death Eater that Harry comes into conflict with on multiple occasions, he definitely could have been seen more. Warwick Davis plays both Griphook and Professor Flitwick, but even with two roles, still had little screen time. Like Trelawney, David Thewlis' Remus Lupin is important in the third Harry Potter film, but his character is pushed to the background for the rest of the series, even with him being a member of the Order of the Phoenix. Despite his ultimate sacrifice, Lupin is hardly seen, nor is his relationship with Tonks (Natalia Tena) developed at all. While McGonagall certainly appears more than Trelawney, she is still underutilized — and with Maggie Smith playing the role, it's a shame. The character should be one of the few stabilizing adult presences in Harry's life, and Smith was more than up to the task. Yet she takes a backseat for much of the films.
Of course, the Harry Potter series must focus on Harry and his friends, but all of these characters, Trelawney especially, have such an impact on their lives. Trelawney's prophecy sets everything in motion, making Harry the Chosen One. Without Trelawney, there isn't a story, yet she is nearly written out of the films. Despite Emma Thompson's glowing reputation, the series gives her next to no time on screen, and that's the real crime. Thompson's Professor Trelawney should have received the attention that the important figure deserves.