Within the first five minutes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth film to be adapted from J.K Rowling’s ultra-successful series of novels, a trio of Death Eaters cause London’s millennium bridge to come crashing down into the river Thames. “Surely everyone would have survived,” was my immediate thought, as I reminded myself that this film franchise began with a children’s novel. Yet when a close-up is given of the following day’s newspaper, the headline unmistakeably reads ‘Bridge Collapse: Death Toll Rises’.
The fact that terrorism plagues this fantasy story much like it does in reality serves as a clear indication that Harry Potter can no longer be considered child’s play. In the same way that Rowling’s novels matured with her readership, the films have suitably grown darker with each instalment. There’s still some kindred magic in the air, not to mention a healthy dose of humour, but Harry Potter’s sixth year at Hogwarts is easily his darkest, most mature adventure to date. That said, it’s also his best.
After the aforementioned opening scene of destruction, wizard prodigy Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry despite it being a certain target for Voldemort’s growing army of Death Eaters. Whilst headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) takes all the necessary precautions to protect Hogwarts, he announces that the school’s biggest threat to security is the students themselves. He’s on the money, as Potter notices that his longtime rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is up to no good in the halls at night. Neither is former Potions Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), who makes an unbreakable vow to Malfoy’s mother promising that he’d assist Draco in carrying out the dark lord’s evil biddings.
Whilst The Half-Blood Prince still acts as a stepping stone towards the franchise ending two-parter The Deathly Hallows, events feel far more consequential than that of director David Yate’s last entry, The Order of the Phoenix. For instance, the evil lord Voldemort is finally given more of a back story, told through snippets of memories ‘captured’ during his troubled childhood, where he was known by the less intimidating name of Tom Riddle (portrayed by Hero Fiennes-Tiffin). It’s not all doom and gloom; after being sorely missing from the last film, fans will also be happy to know that the broomstick sport of Quidditch makes a triumphant return to the screen.
As it has been with each instalment, the film’s greatest strength is its many quirky characters. Returning favourites include Alan Rickman as the amusingly spiteful Professor Snape and Michael Gambon as the ever charming, ever wise headmaster Dumbledore. New to the series, Jim Broadbent as potions professor Horace Slughorn is an exceptional piece of casting. His performance carries as many delightfully odd nuances as you can expect from someone with the last name ‘Slughorn’. Suitably maturing with each film is its there stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who respectively play Harry, Hermione and Ron with great assurance. This time around, their endearing friendship is put to the test when love seeps its way into the equation.
The love triangle that forms between Hermione, Ron and an overly gushy Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) is well constructed and often the source of some hearty laughs. However, Harry’s budding romance with Ron’s younger sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) unfolds in a more haphazard manner than that of the book and feels less credible as a result. The other quibble fans may have with this adaptation is the cliff-hanger conclusion, which isn’t nearly as spectacular as it was in words. Otherwise, screenwriter Steve Kloves (who also adapted the first four films) does a remarkable job of condensing a 650 page book into 153 gratifying minutes. It might seem overlong, but the captivatingly told story, endearing characters and spectacular art direction makes each minute feel more magical than the last.
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