Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part One (12A) ****
Opening with a zoom into the rapidly rusting Warner Bros logo, followed by a near-silent introduction to the trio of heroes who have seen us through nine years and seven films, plus a death in the opening 10 minutes, the grim tone of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One is set early on.
Following the tragic events of the previous movie, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are now living in a world where Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is rapidly gaining power, no wizard safe from his determination to destroy the boy who lived.
Mourning the loss of friends and family while on the trail of the Horcruxes which contain the secret to Voldemort's existence, Harry and friends are both the hunters and the hunted as they traverse Britain, all the while attempting to stay one-step-ahead of the Dark Lord.
Unlike many family films, the thread running through the Harry Potter series is very much one of death and loss, each one seemingly plunging the world further into darkness. Deathly Hallows is no different, proving nobody is immune from harm and that even the Ministry of Magic, supposedly there to help Harry, can be turned into a bureaucratic Orwellian nightmare, with echoes of Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
Radcliffe, Watson and Grint again prove they're capable actors, managing to spout the necessary expository dialogue while adding a touch of realism to the characters. Each may cope well in the SFX-heavy sequences, but it's the more intimate moments that really allow them to shine, the tense moment when Ron has a chance to destroy a Horcrux particularly well-handled.
Once more aided by a Who's Who of British acting fraternity, including Bill Nighy, Peter Mullan, Rhys Ifans and a vampish Helena Bonham-Carter, each happy to ham things up as required, director David Yates has crafted a gorgeous looking chase movie which strides confidently towards each set piece.
If the chase element of Deathly Hallows is one of its biggest successes, it also turns out to be the main problem. Watching the three friends move from location-to-location does become repetitive, the Tardis-like tent on screen so often that it surely deserves an Oscar nomination for best supporting performance.
There's also a lack of clarity as to the time period events are taking place in, Hermione noting at one point that Harry has just celebrated his birthday (31 July, fact fans) while not long after it's Christmas Eve. Though not critical to viewers' enjoyment, this confusion does diffuse the peril somewhat.
Deathly Hallows Part One may not be a classic Potter outing but it is a classy one, a satisfying and effective bridge towards the climax of Part Two, which now has a lot riding on it. The very young may find it overly talky at times, but fans of both the novels and the films should find much to savour here, while all other Muggles should sit back and enjoy the ride.
In cinemas on Friday
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