Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Second term at boarding school is better than the first, because you know your way around and those scary teachers aren't so scary any more and your classmates have grown accustomed to your face. It's the same with Harry Potter. His second year at Hogwarts feels less of a showcase and more of a story.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have bedded in nicely. They are friends now, not just actors pretending to be friends. Coming back for The Chamber Of Secrets is not an excuse to be rude about American director Chris Columbus and his obsession with special effects. It's quite sentimental. You keep seeing people you know. Hi Hagrid! There's Snape, looking malevolent, as per. Nearly Headless Nick floats past, greeting the late-comers. Malfoy glowers and Dumbledore smiles wisely from behind his beard.

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The formula remains the same. Harry (Radcliffe) is at home in the outer suburbs with Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and their horrible son. He is treated like an unpaid servant and locked in his room. His owl isn't allowed out and then Dobby turns up. He's a house elf, who has come to warn Harry not to return to Hogwarts: "Terrible things will happen." Harry doesn't know what to think, because Dobby's behaving in such an odd way.

After Uncle Vernon has riveted bars across Harry's window, Ron Weasley (Grint) and his brothers arrive in their father's flying car to free him. And then they go to the Weasley house (scruffy and cosy and magic). And then they go to Di-whatever-it's-called Alley (funny shops and wizardy people). And then they go to the station to run through the wall to the secret platform and catch The Hogwarts Express at 11 o'clock - except Harry and Ron can't, because the wall won't let them through, and they have to fly the car, with catastrophic results.

There is no need to explain how things work at school any more, which is a relief. Harry, Ron and Hermione (Watson) are relaxed and at ease with each other and their friendship is more natural now. Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) is less centre stage, although still an important ingredient. Dumbledore (Richard Harris, in his final role) and McGonagall (Maggie Smith) have become established figures, rather than eccentric oddities. Snape (Alan Rickman) takes a back seat and Sprout (Miriam Margolyes), who teaches deadly plants and how to handle them, is a welcome addition. The famous author and wizard, Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), has joined the staff. Flamboyant and vain, it is obvious from the start that he is a fool.

In the book, J K Rowling takes time to infuse tension into what reads like a schoolboy adventure, but once the mystery of The Chamber emerges, excitement runs wild through scenes of inspired imagination. The film has a steady pace, never tiring, except for a brief period in the middle, always moving forward towards the ultimate terror, which is the monster that guards the Secrets. Where, in the first film, Harry appeared uncertain in the role of hero, here he takes the initiative with fearless endeavour. He knows his strengths and is beginning to discover who he really is.

The complexity of the story, which involves a diary with invisible writing, belonging to a prefect 50 years ago, who was witness to the last time the Chamber was opened, and the possible closing of Hogwarts forever, because of pupils - and Argus Filch's cat - who have been petrified by something or someone unknown is cleverly adapted by scriptwriter Steven Kloves. Although the terror of the denouement is eased by the cutting of longer scenes, it remains impressive.

Columbus uses his effects with discretion and they are magnificently done. Even the Quidditch match makes more sense. A huge asset to the cast is Moaning Myrtle, a ghost who haunts the girls' lav. Played by Shirley Henderson, she is a comic delight. One of the flaws in The Philosopher's Stone was its lack of humour, considering how funny Rowling can be in print. This is taken care of this time and jokes are liberally sprinkled throughout.

Branagh is miscast as the elegant phoney Lockhart. Like Jason Isaacs, as Malfoy's father, he overacts in a panto style, which Henderson, Margolyes and Julie Walters, as Mrs Weasley, do not. What gives The Chamber Of Secrets its strength are the performances of the three lead players. Radcliffe has genuine authority and Grint has stopped making faces (almost). Hermione, being a girl, is supposed to be hyper-clever and a bit bossy. Watson has gained in confidence and is too attractive to be a knowall - an annoying one, anyway.

Is it familiarity that makes the heart grow fonder? Or magic?

Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2002
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Harry enters the second year at Hogwarts... and it's even more perilous than the first.
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