Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane, Frances de la Tour, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, Shirley Henderson, David Tennant, Robert Pat

Directed by: Mike Newell

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter

Harry Potter. Love him? Loathe him? Don't really see what all the fuss is about? Whatever your feelings towards the speccy boy wizard, you're going to find him pretty hard to ignore over the next week or so. With queues snaking round the cinema like basilisks, the opening night of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth instalment in the magical franchise, was a sell out - much like the Quidditch World Cup, to which we play a whistlestop visit at the start of the film. Okay, so nobody wants to sit through another bloody Quidditch match, but you can't help feeling a bit cheated that we don't see any of the action on the pitch.

Instead we're plunged straight into the post match party, which is then abruptly broken up by a violent demonstration by the Deatheaters, Lord Voldemort's supporters. Yup, it's all action now as director Mike Newell (of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame) attempts to cram as much of the hefty book into the first hour of the film as possible.

If you're not already au fait with the HP universe you'll be utterly at sea, because there's no time to waste on plot resumés and scene setting. A few quick chuff-chuffs of the Hogwarts Express and we're back at school - this year with special guest students the beautiful French mademoiselles of Beauxbatons and the surly, fur clad, Eastern European strongmen of Durmstrang, who, we discover (after watching them all march in at a 100 miles an hour, like butterflies and bats out of hell) are here to take part in the legendary Tri Wizard Tournament. Win it and you gain eternal glory; lose and you could well end up dead. We Are The Champions this ain't.

Of course we can guess who gets chosen for the tournament - poor old Harry (and no, Daniel Radcliffe still can't act). And due to some archaic rule or other, he isn't allowed to withdraw. Are the danger, cruelty and sheer insanity of the challenges he must face supposed to be a comment on the current litigation-fearful state of extra-curricular activities in the Muggle world? Who knows - either way, I can't see many parents happy to sign a consent form that okays their child being mauled by a Hungarian Horn-Tailed Dragon.

Brendan Gleeson chews the scenery as Mad Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Fortunately Harry has a new ally, in the cursing, stomping, hipflask swigging form of the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. This time it's Brendan Gleeson's turn to chew the scenery, as one-legged, one-eyed dark wizard catcher Mad Eye Moody, a truly fearsome teacher with a decidedly alarming hands on approach to class work. His handy hints prove invaluable in helping Harry through the seemingly impossible tournament tasks. but is he all he appears to be? 'Hogwarts is no longer safe,' the disembodied head of Sirius Black warns our young hero: can he really trust anyone?

Miranda Richardson steals another scene as Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Gone is the cosy BBC 5pm cheesiness of the first two films (the only things that scream Children's Film Foundation about Goblet of Fire are the Weasley boys' haircuts) - instead Newell picks up on the dark, gothic world created by Alfonso Cuarón for The Prisoner of Azkaban, scrapping many of the book's lighter moments in favour of a much more serious, nightmare-inducing plot. So no Dursleys this time, no Dobby and Winky the house elves and not nearly enough of poison pen journalist Rita Skeeter (which is a shame, as a peroxide blonde Miranda Richardson is scene-stealingly superb in the few scenes she does get).

But hell, dragons, tabloid revelations and the return of the Dark Lord are the least of Harry's problems, because he's fallen in love - and he's not the only one. The hormones are bubbling away like potions in Snape's dungeon, and fortunately the film finally slows down in time for us to enjoy the joy and humiliation of a teenager's first dance (to music from Jarvis Cocker in a wig - what more could you want?). It all ends in tears of course (didn't it always?) but serves as a timely and poignant reminder that the boy at the heart of all these magical intrigues and destiny shaping forces is only 14 years old.

The Hogmanay ball is not much fun for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Grint)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is not an out and out triumph. There's simply too much material to cram into two and a half hours, and despite a judicious amount of editing which wouldn't have harmed the book itself, key events are missed out and as a result, the plot is weakened and the twists and turns which, on paper, take a while to unravel, become really rather obvious from the start. The first hour rushes by like an express train, while the ending seems trite and tacked on.

The middle section, however, is perfectly paced and really rather brilliant, and the showdown between Harry and his evil nemesis, the newly arisen Lord Voldemort, is literally spellbinding. With his hideous, snakelike appearance and icy, utterly amoral malevolence, You Know Who really is the stuff of nightmares, and a hundred points to Gryffindor to whoever thought of casting Shakespearian superstar Ralph Fiennes in the role - far from hamming it up in usual Brit-actor-in-HP fashion, his subtle control of the character is utterly chilling.

'I don't know why kids would want to go and see that - it's far too serious,' the woman in front of me comments as we file out of the cinema at midnight, feeling somewhat dazed. And that's minus the Ministry of Magic vs Hogwarts politics which JK Rowling introduces in the book and which become so central to The Order of the Phoenix, but which Newell chooses to underplay here. Yes, Goblet of Fire is pretty serious. It's dark, macabre and, at one point, heart wrenchingly tragic. But it's also breathtakingly exciting, visually spectacular and, in places, really rather funny. Flawed as it may be, Goblet of Fire definitely has the magic touch.

  • Share on Tumblr