A midsummer release seems inappropriate for ‘Harry 5’, with its intriguing aura of new-term blues, as a hormonally distracted Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), having escaped expulsion by the intervention of dear head Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), trudges back for a fifth year at Hogwarts carrying a burdensome weight on his more muscularly defined shoulders. But just because he’s paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get ’im. Irritable but resolute Harry knows by physical injury that evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is gathering a new army, but his every step to recruit a rival one is dogged by the morons at the Ministry and their appointee as new headmistress, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a smiling villain in pink-knit twinset who nails up more interdicts than a riled Robespierre.
There’s a new director on board, and if Chris Columbus was enjoyable, Alfonso Cuarón dark, and Mike Newell aware that for all school sagas, familiarity breeds content, new helmsman David Yates is serious, almost grave. He swathes swiftly through JK Rowling’s doorstopper text with martial efficacy, clocking a crisp 138 minutes, the shortest of the series. He certainly keeps the scenes and action moving, but his no-nonsense approach leaves no time for games – please sir, can’t we play just a little Quidditch? – and the excision of scenes of lolling chat in study rooms will disappoint fans of Bunter and Tom Brown worldwide.
On the plus side, Harry gets his first, sweet screen kiss – to the warrior the spoils – from one of the increased quota of ethnic faces, cherubic new girl Cho (Katie Leung). Also, Evanna Lynch brings new, if blenched, blood with her endearing loony, Luna Lovegood; the production design is again an eclectic wonder, from the adumbrated Georgian mustiness of the secret Order of the Phoenix house to the Bazalgette-burnished tiles of the Victorian Ministry ‘Headquarters’ where stacked rows of jurors deliberate like Doges for Harry’s inquisition; and there are some spectacular CGI effects. Performances are more mature, the soundtrack (by Nicholas Hooper) less grandiose, and Yates executes some thrilling set-pieces – but, please, Mr Yates, don’t let these winds of modernity sweep too many beloved cobwebs away! Let’s hope he casts some more old-fashioned spells in part six, ‘The Half-Blood Prince’.