The full galaxy of British screen talent is once again assembles, no not for James Bond, this time for the fifth instalment of the Harry Potter saga. I’ve always enjoyed the films, from the rather wooden first attempt, through to this latest episode, where the acting is much more grown up. Indeed, Harry is so grown up that he starts to discover… girls, and even kisses one (which produced something between a gasp and an oooowww from the younger members of the audience). The more mature Harry is also reflected in the general tone of the film, this time directed by David Yates (best know for Sex Traffic and string of other TV projects; he’s also set to make the sixth film). The film is, as ever, a visual treat (but we don’t get any quidditch!), with the Ministry of Magic (underneath our Muggle world’s Whitehall), and its strange characters and huge rooms proving particularly memorable. Potter (Daniel Radcliff) is reunited with his old friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) at Hogwarts, but the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Finnes) is still after Harry. Headmaster and all round good egg Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) fights to save his young charge from a variety of attacks, but back at Hogwarts the Ministry of Magic sends in Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to take control of the school and limit the use of magic. Hogwarts effectively becomes a totalitarian state, Harry leading the underground resistance. It’s all great fun and highly diverting, ending up in the anticipated magical battle. There are also some nice broomstick flying over London shots, which reinforce the British brand value of Potter, and make London look very glamorous indeed.
The heroes of the film, Harry and his teenage chums, are all developing as characters and the acting is getting much better than in the early outings (indeed Daniel Radcliff starred in Equus in the West End earlier this year, and I can report that he did very well, if not quite superbly). As for the character roles, Staunton is brilliant as the horrible and awfully Pink Mrs Umbridge, on a one woman mission to take the joy out of life. Emma Thompson has a brief and quite funny appearance as a thickly bespectacled and incompetent teacher, Kathryn Hunter even has a small but crucial part (playing and old lady before her natural time I think). What with Gambon, Finnes, Staunton, Thompson, Maggie Smith, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Gary Oldman, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman (brilliantly deadpan as ever), David Bradley, Robbie Coltrane and Helena Bonham Carter (who is excellent in her creepy role), making an appearance to some extent or another, you could celebrity cast several West End revivals in the years to come.
Despite taking on more responsibility, emerging as a leader and even his first kiss, Harry is still a schoolboy, and watching this film is a deliciously juvenile way to spend an afternoon.
P.S: Was I the only one to think the giant was a dead ringer from Shrek?
P.S.S: Was nice to The Osteology Lesson of Dr Sebastiaen Egbertsz by Nicolaes Eliasz Pickenoy, on the wall at Hogwarts. I’d see it at the National Gallery the day before.