Running Time: 161 mins
While Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was entertaining and satisfied millions of young film-goers around the world, its successor is even more enjoyable. Perhaps, like avid readers of J.K.Rowling's novels, we now know the characters and the way of life at Hogwart's School, and we are ready, even eager, to share their new adventures.
It is clear that the young cast are now very much at home with their characters. Daniel Radcliffe is much stronger this time. A year ago Harry was being introduced to us and to the revelation that he was a wizard. He had to find and settle into his new home at Hogwarts. Finally, he did get into his stride confronting Voldemart in an exciting climax. This time he
goes almost immediately into action, and is generally in control. Rupert Grint made an engaging Ron Weasley. This time he is firmly under Harry's leadership and has to spend a lot of the time looking surprised, amazed or afraid. Emma Watson's Hermione has mellowed a little - although she is the only one who is visibly disappointed when Professor Dumbledore cancels exams!
The wonderful special effects get going very early in the film when a slightly grotesque but comic elf, Dobbi, arrives at Harry's uncle and aunt's and causes chaos so that Ron and his brothers have to rescue Harry in a flying Anglia, a device so enjoyable the car makes two more appearances where it is battered by an aggressive tree and then rescues Harry and Ron in the nick of time from some ultrarealistic, menacing spiders.
Meanwhile things are much the same in Knockturn Alley and at Hogwarts itself. Most of the staff seem more genial this time, Richard Harris's Dumbledore, Maggie Smith's Minervia McGonagle, Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid, although Alan Rickman does his best to look a little sinister as Professor Snape.
However, there is a major addition to the staff, the affably vain Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, who glows in the adulation of his readers but is a coward at heart. Kenneth Branagh somehow captures perfectly the seeming contradictory aspects of being charming and obnoxious. (Most of the audiences who rush out during the credits will miss a final joke with him right at the end.) There is also a funny grumbling student ghost, called Moaning Myrtle.
On the villainous side, Jason Isaacs is a nasty, evil Lucius Malfoy while Christian Coulson appears as a nicely clean-cut student, Tom Riddle, who enlists the aid of a monstrous basilisk to achieve his dastardly ends. As he does sword battle with the giant basilisk, we realise that Harry is now a latterday St George slaying the dragon.
One hopes that the fruitless arguments about witches and wizards will not deter audiences from seeing the new Harry Potter. The words are there as is 'magic', but it is the magic of fantasy and adventure, a what if...? world that we know can never be the real world, the world of The Wizard of Oz or Camelot, where legendary heroes and heroines do battle with evil,
grow up and give us likeable characters who reinforce the differences between good and evil.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS, the World
Association of Catholic Communicators.