Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (12A)Verdict: Darkest and deepest of the series
The seventh and penultimate Harry Potter starts with the words ‘These are dark times’. They certainly are. There’s precious little sweetness and light around in this film.
Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) may lack a conventional nose, but he is scenting absolute power. Worryingly for a democracy, Britain seems to have fallen into the hands of fascists only too eager to do the Dark Lord’s will.
Muggles — that’s all of us non-wizards — are being hunted down in a manner reminiscent of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Only Harry Potter and his friends can save us, by finding four ‘horcruxes’, which will presumably mean the end of the Dark Lord.
Dark times: Daniel Radcliffe, left, and Emma Watson star in the 'nightmarish' version of the latest Harry Potter installment
A frightening film: Daniel Radcliffe has matured as an actor but his scenes which focus on pain and death will scare his younger fans
My biggest gripe would be that the storytelling isn’t clear. For example, an old woman turns into an enormous snake. The event is played for maximum shock value, but there’s no attempt to explain her transformation.
It’s hard to know whether that’s the fault of the screenwriter, director or a last-minute panic over running time by the producers; but you shouldn’t need to have read the original novel in order to understand what’s happening on screen.
Furious and fast paced: Hagrid, played by Robbie Coltrane, left, and Daniel Radcliffe, speed around in this adventure blockbuster
All grown-up: Bill Nighy in a scene with Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe, who have all noticeably matured as actors
Still, I was pleased to see the return of Dobby the house elf, partly because he’s a triumph of special effects, but also because Toby Jones does such a good job on his voice. And Imelda Staunton continues to make the officious Dolores Umbridge a memorably nasty piece of work. The most praiseworthy aspect is that this episode — unlike the one before it — once again gets Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Emma Watson) working as a team.
The memorable sequences are not, for once, the action scenes, but the acting ones.
Director David Yates includes a delightful passage in which Harry and Hermione simply dance together, in a desperate attempt to rediscover fun and human contact in a world with room for neither. It’s charming, touching and lyrical.
Sheer fright: Radcliff as Harry Potter, left, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, all put on dark performances
Alarming: Some of the scenes are terrifying, including those with Ralph Fiennes as Harry's hideous arch-enemy Voldemor
The big strength of this movie is that it doesn’t rush. The long middle section of the novel, where Harry, Hermione and Ron are marooned in the English countryside without much idea what to do next, is ponderous and too lacking in action for a mass-market blockbuster.
But it’s exquisitely photographed by Eduardo Serra, and the atmosphere of the book — paranoid, apocalyptic, nightmarish — is accurately conveyed.
The decision to split the novel into two films — which could be seen as a cynical move by Warner Brothers to string out its lucrative franchise — means that more detail from the book is transferred to the screen, which on balance I would argue is a good thing.
Casting a dark spell: Helena Bonham Carter (far right) returns as Bellatrix while Jason Isaacs stars as Lucius Malfoy (centre)
Emma Watson, in particular, has matured into a very promising screen actress.
This picture lacks the rich comic invention that was a feature of the first three Potter books and its darkness will not be to everyone’s taste.
The emphasis on pain, torture and death makes it too frightening for small children.
Yet the characters have deepened and become so familiar that they invite understanding as they struggle with the familiar teenage problems of emotional relationships and taking on adult responsibility.
I can see why J.K.Rowling regards this as her favourite film of the series so far.
It is not the most lucid or entertaining of her yarns, but her three leads have matured into genuinely interesting characters.
The millions who have grown up with this trio should feel that they have had their money’s worth, even if the big, decisive moments and action set pieces are still to come.
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