Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch

Directed by: David Yates

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in the Half-Blood Prince

'Dark days are ahead, Harry,' intones Dumbledore ominously. Well of course they are, otherwise we wouldn't be queuing round Vue cinema like lost Cliff Richard fans in our desperation to catch the next instalment in the HP saga.

A stunning opening sequence that you won't find in the book quickly sets the scene: the Dark Lord is ascendant, and magicians and muggles alike are suffering. As Voldemort drags Draco Malfoy and Snape deeper into his contorted plans and Dumbledore starts to unravel the complex secrets-within-secrets of his unhappy past, the plot threatens to wind into a spiral as elaborate as the sets, which, from the ever-unfurling delights of Fred and George's joke emporium to the rickety floors of the Weasley's Den and intricate curlicues of the Hogwarts astronomy tower, are predominantly based on circular patterns.

Yet director David Yates chooses to cut through much of the complexity of the book and focus instead on the central characters. Yup, another year has passed in Potter world (and two years in our muggle time), but the power of Lord Voldemort isn't the only thing that's escalated: the young cast have suddenly shot up (aside from our 5'5" hero, that is), practically towering over Hagrid with their long gangly limbs and floppy fringes, and they've discovered sex – well, sweet, sanitised 1950s-style sex, anyway, where snogging is new and exciting – Hollyoaks this ain't.

And so Half-Blood Prince becomes Harry's coming of age film, as he discovers his true feelings for Ginny Weasley (they so didn't realise how important she was going to become when they casted her) and graduates from Dumbledore's pupil to ally in battle.

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe come of age in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

But while this preoccupation with burgeoning teenage emotions is both charming and all too painfully nostalgic, you can't help feeling a wee bit robbed of Tom Riddle's early memories, which form such a core part of JK Rowling's book. Until the film's climax that is, which is simply superb: without wishing to spoil anything, I defy you to watch the last twenty minutes without a chill running down your spine or a tear welling up in your eye.

Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Some things, however, never change: as usual, the whole movie looks fantastic, filmed in a monochrome palette of over-saturated hues that adds a timeless quality as well as a layer of seriousness, and the 'children' are acted off the screen by the barrage of old school British talent wheeled out for the event, this time headed up by the marvellous Jim Broadbent as querulous social climber Professor Slughorn, although Tom Felton is something of a revelation as Draco.

Yet in some ways, until the end, Half-Blood Prince is actually a lot less dark than the preceding films, perhaps deliberately, to provide some welcome light relief before the double whammy of death and destruction promised by the two films that will make up Deathly Hallows. Even darker times lie ahead, Harry, and I for one can hardly wait.

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