DVD of the week: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Cast Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint
Director David Yates
In case you've been living in a cave, or possibly comatose for more than a decade (in which case we're genuinely sorry to hear it, but you're going to love The Sopranos) you probably know that an earnest little wizard named Harry Potter trotted his skinny frame into our hearts circa 1997.
The series of books was a children's literary phenomenon, unmatched since Lord of The Rings in its ability to attract readers both young and old into its deeply nuanced and magical realm.
And while it took Peter Jackson's vision to breathe cinematic life into Tolkien's master works some 45 years after their publication, Harry Potter was up on the screen just four years after the first book took off.
Released in 2001 - the same year as Lord of The Rings - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and its sequels might not command as much respect as Jackson's efforts, but an interesting thing has happened; as the characters and the actors that play them have matured, the story has darkened and become more fit for cinematic fare, culminating in what might be the best film yet - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.
The first instalment in the final chapter of the series is by far the darkest, most violent to date. The kids are all grown up and, either through extremely prescient casting, luck or both, the principal actors have blossomed from passable child actors into the real thing.
This is timely, because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 finds everyone's favourite Hogwarts alumni with a lot on their plates; Dumbledore is gone, Voldemort is on the loose and the Death Eaters have taken over the Ministry for Magic, launching an ethnic-cleansing campaign against mudbloods and muggle-borns.
The usual gang of trustworthy adults do their best to protect Harry, but ultimately Harry, Ron, and Hermione must go it alone, hiding in the wilderness as they attempt to unravel and destroy the evil magic underpinning Voldemort's return to power.
With a quality cast of baddies that includes Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy and Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape, it's a little surprising that these talented actors aren't given more to do.
I suppose the great concession of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, is time; it takes two films to outline Rowling's final book. Among the Death Eaters, only Ralph Fiennes is fully utilised in his turn as Voldemort, although the others do have their moments.
Fiennes carries off Voldemort's noseless, hissing menace with cold reserve, effectively lowering the temperature of the room in every scene he's in. The other Death Eaters seem almost insignificant by comparison, though at the same time, all too lethal as one of Harry's staunchest protectors meets an untimely fate in the film's first action sequence.
Still, the film's supporting cast is of a calibre that helps it avoid the trappings of sequel-isation; in the wrong hands this darker chapter in the Potter saga might have seemed stale or self-parodic, and that definitely isn't the case.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling has given us a coming-of-age story that adults can relate to and children, inevitably, look ahead to. Eventually a time comes when there's no one left to tell you what to do but yourself. All of us must eventually leave behind our mentors and (hopefully) beloved institutions, and Ron, Harry and Hermione find themselves keeping their own counsel at the worst moment in their shared history. They've never needed one another more than when the gentle, guiding voices of Dumbledore and the Hogwarts staff have been silenced.
As a metaphor for the joy and the burden of adulthood, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 dramatises this often difficult passage with typical sensitivity and charm.