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Saving Private Harry Potter-Saxe-Coburg...

A three-way themed post today with a nod to the worlds of Hollywood, Harry Potter and Politics.

This day in 1998 saw the cinema release of Saving Private Ryan, five time Oscar winner at the 1999 awards. Rightly remembered as an epic movie having shot one of the most realistic depictions of the D-Day landings, it had a significant impact on both those who worked on the film, and those who watched it.

People who had taken part in the Normandy landings praised the film for not holding back on some of the gore and violence endured in reality. Some of the extras in the beach landing scenes were amputees who had prosthetic limbs attached so they could be 'blown off' in the performance.

Matt Damon, a relatively unknown actor was cast as Private Ryan. Steven Spielburg wanted a clean cut, all-American looking actor who wasn't particularly famous. He wasn't to know at the time of casting that Damon's previous film, Good Will Hunting in 1997 would be such a hit, earning Damon an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and a Screenwriting Oscar win for the same film, which he co-wrote with Ben Affleck. This meant that by the time Saving Private Ryan was released, Damon was world famous.

Considering Spielburg was making the film in honour of his father, and didn't have high hopes for its commercial success, the $70 million cost was easily recouped. The opening weekend in the USA alone drew $30 million and globally the film has now drawn Box Office revenues of over $482 million. Not a bad return.

In a parallel world, Harry Potter received his first letter from Hogwarts today in 1991. Vernon and Petunia Dursley burn the letter hoping to put an end to all things wizardry. They failed. The next day a second letter is delivered, again to be destroyed. Vernon sleeps by the letterbox on the third day when three letters arrive, which he again intercepts. This carries on in increasing numbers over the next few days until the family relocate to 'the hut-on-the-rock' to avoid more letters from the school reaching them. At the hut on July 31st, Hagrid appears and delivers Harry's acceptance letter in person, taking him away to Diagon Alley for his first visit.

In an early interview, JK Rowling said that of all the early plaudits, she was particularly pleased with winning the Smarties Book Prize in 1997 for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The award was nominated by adults, but voted for by children and she went on to win again in 1998 and 1999 for the second and third books in the series. She liked that children found the books funny and frightening, which was what she was aiming for, and she also liked the idea of being able to say that she was big in Finland... With over 500,000 book sales worldwide now, including Finland, I wonder if she still likes to think of herself that way?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Finnish.

With a pretty 'Potter' sounding surname, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, ruled as the last Tsar of Bulgaria when he was a child. The monarchy was abolished in 1946 following a public referendum and a period of exile for him followed. Upon his return in 1996 he entered politics, and was sworn in as Prime Minister of Bulgaria today but then in 2001.

It is an important event because he is one of only two people to win political power through democratic elections after having previously ruled as a monarch, the other being Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia.

You may recognise the surname Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It was the surname of the British monarchy before it changed to Windsor in response to Anti-German sentiment in 1917. I wrote briefly about it last week, and you can have a quick look at that post here.

Finally today, Happy Birthday to Amelia Earhart, who would have been 121 today! Still an amazing role model and I wrote about her recently too. You can see that post here.

Thanks for reading!