Beginning of the end

Beginning of the end

The next seven months could prove excruciating for Potter fans

OK, this isn't usually a page for movie reviews, but we couldn't go to press without reviewing one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the year.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had opened almost everywhere else in the world before Hong Kong finally got hold of it. But it was worth the wait.

The movie opens with Bill Nighy's Rufus Scrimgeour reminding wizards, witches and Muggle audience members of the dark times they face. Voldemort is gathering strength and his army is as powerful as in its heyday. It's clear that this is to be a darker, more mature Potter than previous ones. There are no jolly house meetings or Quidditch matches. Hermione casts the "obliviate" spell on her parents to wipe her from their memory and commit fully to a magical life. Members of the Order of the Phoenix offer to sacrifice their lives to protect Harry (still "the chosen one"). Jealousy, danger, temptation, anger and betrayal lurk around every corner.

But it is still a movie of magic and wonder. The young stars' acting is stronger and more believable than ever, and their relationships are utterly convincing - perhaps not surprising given the amount of time Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have spent together over the last decade.

Grint in particular shows his ability to portray a teenager confused and angered by so much in his life: friends, family, love, the future. He is also, as has become his custom, the source of most humorous moments - although Harry and Hermione's awkward boogie vies convincingly for comedic recognition.

The film's magic extends to its visuals, too. Sweeping shots of breath-taking countryside, Blair Witch-like handheld footage and an inspired digital shadow puppet show all add up to one of the most stunning looking films of the year.

In a nutshell, the film sees the heroic trio give up on their studies following the murder (or was it?) of their school headmaster Dumbledore, and Voldemort's emergence from the shadows. They are on a quest to find Horcruxes, magical objects containing part of Voldemort's soul, so that they can destroy them, and ultimately, him.

For non-Potterites, the plot will make little or no sense. You need a sound knowledge of what's gone before, how it's all going to end. But these films weren't designed as stand-alone pieces. They are part of the majesty created by J.K. Rowling, and an homage, perhaps excessively so, to her imagination.

As the characters have grown up, so too have their fans - and their problems. This is not a film for the very young, or the easily frightened. There are some genuinely scary moments, and some poignant occasions that will test even the toughest temperament.

But it is perhaps the most compelling Potter to date. If you've been following the movies series - or, if you're a real fan, the books, too - since the beginning, sitting down as the cinema lights dim will be like oxygen for the soul - until you remember that there's at least seven months until the finale comes out.

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