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HARRY HOTTER; AT THE MOVIES Wizard fired with passion FILM OF THE WEEK HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (12A, 138mins).

Byline: MARK ADAMS

THE STARS: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Katie Leung.

THE STORY: As summer comes to an end, Harry Potter (Radcliffe) has a nasty encounter with two spectral Dementors, and finds himself charged by the Ministry of Magic for illegally using magic.

Saved by the intervention of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), he begins a new term at Hogwarts accused of lying about his encounter with the evil Voldemort (Fiennes) and distrusted by some students. With the school doing little to improve their wizarding skills, Harry, Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) team with a select band of students to form Dumbledore's Army and start training themselves for the battles to come. With the danger of Voldemort drawing closer, Harry and a rebel group of students have to fly back to London for a climactic face-off against Voldemort and his henchmen in a Ministry of Magic storeroom.

THE VERDICT: This fifth instalment in the Harry Potter series is a deliciously dark affair, brimming with impressively gritty performances but still managing to balance magical wonder with breathless excitement. This time round, Harry (played with muscular zeal by Daniel Radcliffe) is something of a tormented teen, with those adolescent hormones - plus the imminent threat of the dark lord Voldemort - causing him to cuss his pals and shout at teachers.

Mind you, on the plus side, he gets to engage in a proper extended festive snog with Cho Chang (Katie Leung) under a magically sprouting sprig of mistletoe.

The film is impressively moody, brooding with bad omens, and while heavy on thrills and drama it has left behind childish schoolroom high-jinks and jolly japes, with the core of the story about how Harry and his band of school rebels start to train for the battles ahead.

Fun does come, though, in the stout and pink-suited form of new teacher (and Ministry of Magic stooge) Dolores Umbridge who rules the students with a rod of iron. Beautifully played by the terrific Imelda Staunton, she exudes creepy charm and steely determination and is quite happy to torture the kids to get her own way. Delightfully, her pink-painted office has its walls covered with decorative plates, each featuring an animated cat that purrs or hisses as she rebukes the students.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix overflows with devious plots, plans and clever machinations, and is constantly entertaining, wonderfully condensing what was the longest of JK Rowling's books.

Some things have had to give - there's no quid-ditch and sadly not enough of some of the wonderful teachers.

That said, Alan Rickman delivers a truly wonderful hissing performance as the dark and doleful Snape, and Helena Bonham Carter crops up in the final section as the maniacal villainess Bellatrix Lestrange.

The youngsters are all pretty impressive. But Ron (the ever-fine Rupert Grint) is never given enough to do, and while Hermione (Emma Watson) is as earnest as ever, it is Bonnie Wright as Ron's sister Ginny who makes the most subtle and memorable impact... her time is to come.

Oddly, the Cho Chang character simply fades away after her lipaction with Harry, but you don't mind too much because the final half-hour is a truly classic piece of action-adventure. The special effects are superb, and this time round we really get some proper wizard duelling, with the wands doubling as deadly weapons and blood spilled as the young heroes slug it out with a grizzled group of baddie magicians.

There is even a Star Wars moment as Dumbledore (the Obi-Wan Kenobi in this version) goes wand-to-wand with Voldemort (Darth Vader) as they battle for the life and soul of Harry Potter.

This time the magical teens are making the difficult transition to young adults. Love, betrayal, independence and commitment all play their part. The film is a cracking piece of entertainment - it's well over two hours long, but you simply wish it could go on.

Wonderfully directed by David Yates, it is an energetic epic that will keep Potter fans more than happy as the countdown for the new - and final - book draws on.

FINAL CUT

MOODY and magical - the Phoenix brims with sizzling entertainment and action. A dark and delicious delight...a must see movie. ****

Opens Thursday, July 12

CAPTION(S):

Sinister... House elf Kreacher; Distraught... Harry reacts to news of godfather's death; Maniacal... Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix; Growing up... Harry's festive kiss with Cho Chang
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Words:742
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