Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Jason Isaacs, Imelda Staunton, Sophie Thompson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Evanna Lynch, Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths

Directed by: David Yates

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Axis of Evil: Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix LeStrange

If you've never seen a Harry Potter film, now is not the time to start. With no time for exposition or catch ups, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 plunges us straight into the action, with evil overlord Voldemort now ruling a fascist magic Reich in which only purebloods are tolerated, and halfbloods and muggles are rounded up, imprisoned and killed.

Only Harry, Ron and Hermione can stop his disastrous domination, by finding and destroying the Horcruxes that hide severed pieces of the Dark Lord's soul. But, as they tramp across the most isolated, desolate corners of the country, weighed down by their first Horcrux like Sam and Frodo strangled by the One Ring on their trek through Mordor, hunted like dogs by Deatheaters and 'snatchers' (black clad escapees from a Duran Duran video), what chance do they have?

Splitting the final instalment of the Harry Potter series into two may seem like an obvious franchise money-spinner, but it's also a stroke of genius as, at long last, it gives JK Rowling's dense plotting room to breathe. So the frantic chapter gallop of Goblet of Fire and ruthless (and often disappointing) cuts of films five and six are replaced by a more measured pace that gives the well-known characters time to grow, and the audience time to remember why we took them to heart in the first time.

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Not to say that there isn't plenty of action: a stunt-driven aerial chase at the beginning puts The Expendables to shame, our plucky trio's many narrow escapes from death are almost worthy of Inception, while the pivotal legend of the three brothers who originally owned the Deathly Hallows is transformed into the most beautiful, stylish and unexpected animated sequence.

Be warned, however, that this is not a film for the wee ones. Even if your offspring happily lap up torture, murder and teenage snogging (and, yes, post Equus, a lot of naked torsos), it's clear the under tens in my cinema found the morose, soul-searching scenes between Harry, Ron and Hermione as they struggle to come to terms with the immensity of their task just plain boring.

Dobby the House Elf

Stripped of the familiar comforts of Hogwarts, the quirky delights of Diagon Alley or the cosy confines of the Weasley's Den, Deathly Hallows Part 1 is dark, complex and oppressive, plunging our heroes into a bleak, alien environment barely witnessed before in the series: the muggle world. More V for Vendetta than Narnia, the film is also really quite scary in places: the scene in Godric's Hollow is practically The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a snake.

There may be a whoop  of appreciation when Dobby the House Elf puts in an appearance, but don't expect it to end happily for him (oh c'mon, you've read the book…)

Rhys Ifans as Xenophilius Lovegood in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

As usual, the cast list reads like a who's who of British talent, and this time it's Rhys Ifans' time to shine as Luna Lovegood's bonkers father Xenophilius, while Jason Isaaac's transformation of Lucius Malfoy from suave villain to ashen-faced, unshaven wreck is simply superb. But mainly it's our three main protagonists , Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who take centre stage: whoever cast them ten years ago for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone must be feeling very smug right now.

If you've not read the books, seriously, don't bother, because you will be expected to fill in gaps left in previous movies with your encyclopaedic HP knowledge. But if, like me, you're a fan, I trust you'll agree that Deathly Hallows Part 1 makes a gothic, gripping start to the end.

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