Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix is a well-crafted and confident continuation of the series, and despite a few mis-steps is probably the best of the films.

This is the fifth film, and though it is based on the longest of the books it's the shortest adaptation so far. In condensing the text, writer Michael Goldenberg (who previously adapted Carl Sagan's Contact for the screen) has made a number of choices that might offend dedicated fans of the series but strengthen this outing of the franchise. Similarly, director David Yates (who helmed 2004's TV film Sex Traffic and Richard Curtis' The Girl In The Cafe) has dealt with the weight of previous instalments with a measure of verve and more than a little delicacy.

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Structurally, this film is the series' Empire Strikes Back. Evil, in the form of Ralph Fiennes' Voldemort, has returned, gathering strength and additional support in the form of Helena Bonham Carter's Bellatrix Lastrange, setting our heroes up as key components of 'the Rebellion'. True to form this is a creeping serpentine evil. There are well-handled scenes inside Harry's mind, and a depth to Daniel Radcliffe's performance. For the most part, the cast are well utilised, with genuine chemistry between Grint, Watson and Radcliffe. Radcliffe has matured as an actor, but Yates also seems more capable than his predecessors of eliciting a good performance from him, meaning that he has particularly affecting scenes with Oldman, Gambon and Rickman, a delicately handled first kiss with Katie Leung's Cho Chang, and, indeed, with Imelda Staunton.

Staunton is brilliant as Ministry Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge, a sort of chintz Darth Vader, who wades into the Hogwart's School of Magic with an iron fist in a taffeta glove. Her office is a cloying den of pink and doilies, and the porcelain plates with portraits of cats are a delightful touch. Staunton is more than able as a true believer of the Ministry's line, paralysed by fear and conviction and turned into a creature of genuine, if misguided, evil. The fifth book makes a careful effort to show shades of grey, sow seeds of confusion, and illustrate the uncertainty in even the noblest of causes, and the film matches this.

There are some surprises, not least that the score isn't by John Williams. Nicholas Hooper's music is confident and well used, and his working relationship with director Yates (which includes 1998's The Tichborne Claimant) is clearly good. The soundtrack is well-integrated, though the addition of contemporary music - even if only a single song in a very specific context - is a little jarring, and likely to enrage the more zealous parts of the fan community who will be concerned over continuity. The script mentions '14 years' a lot, and while they've done a lot to make the younger cast look younger, it doesn't quite work. Evanna Lynch is a revelation as wraith-like 'weirdo' Luna Lovegood, and with some exposition left out of the last film Matthew Lewis gets the chance to add some depth to his role as Harry's fellow orphan Neville Longbottom.

The book's Quidditch sub-plot has been dropped, but there are still plenty of flying sequences. They don't quite convince, and if you listen carefully the speeder bike noise from Star Wars is in there. The Weasley brothers and their nascent business shenanigans are relatively well handled, and their flaming 'W' logo looks suspiciously close to those of Waterstones' and WHSmith. Given that between them they now represent about 40 per cent of UK book sales and have played a correspondingly large role in the success of Harry Potter I'm unsure they could complain. The other effects set pieces are more impressive, including a battle sequence in the Ministry of Magic with stellar fire, water, sand, glass and explosive effects.

Yates and Goldenberg have been aided by the work of those who've gone before them, and while so much has been previously imagined for them they have made a bold and confident entry in the series. Yates at least has been confirmed for the sixth film, and on this evidence it looks to be in good hands. According to early interviews, there was a character due to be dropped from the film that Rowling suggested was vital to the imminent book seven.

The Order Of The Phoenix is the best in the series. It's also a good, well-crafted film that has a chance of standing up by itself. That it probably won't have to is neither here nor there. It's genuinely funny, sufficiently scary to earn its 12A, and it shows an emotional and moral depth that rewards the audience be they established fans or not.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2007
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Harry Potter and friends find themselves in trouble as a mysterious stranger seizes power at Hogwarts.
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Andrew Robertson ***1/2
Andrew Robertson ***1/2

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