Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

Funny, thrilling and, yes, somewhat enchanting, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban is widely regarded as the best book of JK Rowling’s phenomenally successful series. It is certainly the best film. Leaner and meaner than its workmanlike predecessors, it sees the boy wizard (a maturing Daniel Radcliffe) return to Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry, where he’s sought by the freshly-escaped and famously evil Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). With the help of Professor Lupin (the excellent David Thewlis), Potter must unravel the mystery around Sirius, control his own teenage temper, and deal with the deadly Dementors…

Looking like The Lord Of The Rings’ Black Riders suffering all-over Athlete’s Foot, these ghastly creatures are the soul-sucking guardians of Azkaban, who are hunting Sirius and have an unhealthy interest in our hero, too. That the powers-that-be employ such indiscriminately vicious creatures as their law-enforcers doesn’t make much sense, but neither does the taut, exciting conclusion of this magical caper. And, really, it doesn’t matter. Once new director Alfonso Cuarón (who replaced Chris Columbus) picks up the pace after an uneven opening hour, asking too many questions just doesn’t feel in-keeping with the spirit of things. Instead, you’re encouraged to sit back and buy into a fantastical world.

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The sets are spectacular and the effects largely seamless – impressive even in an age where it feels as if we’ve seen it all before. The Hippogryff – part-horse, part-eagle – is a charming creation, while inventions such as a magical map (which shows everyone’s location within Hogwarts) will grab young imaginations.

The Prisoner Of Azkaban is still not strong enough to win over every Potter-sceptic – it’s a little overlong, and never emotionally engrossing – but they will at least find it bearable. Oldman and Thewlis are both exceptional actors and there’s enjoyment enough in watching them give life and meaning to even the most mawkish lines. Potter fans, meanwhile, will find it (sorry about this) spellbinding.

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