Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Director    David Yates
Starring    Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Release    19 NOV (UK)    Certificate PG
4 stars


19th November 2010

So, after nine years of expelliarmus this and accio that, the Harry Potter franchise comes to a close. The trailer tagline says, "It all ends here"...but it doesn't really, does it? Because as the title agrees, and as fans feared, this is very much just the first half of a bigger story that really ends next July. However, while it's fair to say that this sadly doesn't work as a standalone film, it is still one of the best instalments of the series yet.

Are you all up to date on the story so far? Good, so Dumbledore's dead, Voldemort has returned, the Death Eaters are back and Harry has started french-kissing Ron's sister. This is, therefore, the film that breaks the mould: the story isn't structured according to the Hogwarts school term, Harry is now mentor-less and there's no sight of Hermione in school uniform to make us feel guilty and confused. The saga has moved on and the kids are now all growns up.

That is, in effect, what makes up the core of an otherwise single-minded plot. As Harry and friends take it upon themselves to continue Dumbledore's mission in searching for the seven hidden MacGuffins that can kill Voldemort, the importance is placed on the fact that they do it alone. For fear of risking the lives of their friends and family, they shed all contact with others and suddenly Harry et al have no means of support. In fact, the odds are so stacked against them that, probably for the first time in the whole series, it's easy to believe Harry might not come out the victor in this story after all.

[gallery]Admittedly, most of this leads to what was always going to be the biggest criticism of the film (and the book) as the trio spend an overly long time hiding in a forest with no real direction, bickering among themselves. Thankfully, a great deal of humour has been injected into the script and this does a sterling job of making up for the lack of action. In fact, between a genuinely funny scene at the start that involves the core group of good guy wizards all disguising themselves as Harry, and scenes towards the end featuring the much-loved house-elf Dobby, the film remains funny throughout - and not just in a well-I-guess-kids-will-enjoy-it kind of way.

This is in part down to Radcliffe, Grint and Watson who, as each film goes by, become more and more comfortable in their roles and deliver more solid acting than in previous instalments. Don't get me wrong, they are still, by far, the weakest link in the film franchise, but at this stage, Daniel Radcliffe's stilted half-grin is as much to be expected as is some British thespian saying "Harreeee Pottaahh". We're all used to it now.

What we're not used to is the ramped up adult tone of this film. Those that have read the books will already know that there are severe casualties and even fatalities along the way. While most of these are handled in good time but briefly enough to keep the momentum going, one death in particular (and you Potterites know which one I'm talking about) is a fantastically poignant and surprisingly well-acted scene that could have younger kids bawling in the aisles. And it's not just the deaths that lend the film a more adult feel - there are some truly scary moments too, with one scene in particular that had me jumping higher than anything in this year's Paranormal Activity 2.

And then there's the sex. Yes, that's right, 'sex'...or what the MPAA have labelled in their rating classification as "brief sensuality", which involves Harry making out with a topless Hermione (steady, it's still a PG13) in Ron's feverish hallucination. This only deserves comment because, after six films of seeing these young wizards grow up from small children, this scene is as unsettling as watching your two younger cousins mack on each other. It may serve the storyline well at the time, but...eeewwwww.

Even more astonishingly, as the film heads towards the credits reel, director David Yates finds time to show a rare moment of pure originality in this well-thumbed movie saga, depicting the reading of an important urban legend with a short but glorious animation sequence that, for five whole minutes, completely escapes the live-action world and presents an incredibly well-visualised gothic fairytale.

Overall, the film does suffer from being only half a story but was the split into two movies the result of a nefarious studio trying to wring every last Galleon out of the boy wizard? Well, in semi-hindsight, it's hard to imagine how one full-length film could contain all of the best parts of this movie as well as the rest of the story. Despite a few pacing issues, this is actually a perfectly enjoyable step along the way to what is guaranteed to be an epic summer finale.

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