Fifth in the Harry Potter heptology, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was faced with two major challenges. Firstly, yet another change of director as the job seems to be afflicted with the same curse as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher; secondly, the necessity of reducing a herculean tome over 750 pages long into a 138-minute film without losing the plot, as it were.
I have to admit I didn’t like the book as much as the previous efforts: it lacks pace. Ms Rowling tends to use a whole paragraph where a sentence would have sufficed, and spell things out when she should suggest. The film is a serious improvement: for example, a lot of the unnecessarily repetitive teenage angst is chucked out in favour of something actually happening – while remaining faithful to the story. I’m tempted, especially after digging out the wrist-breakingly unwieldy volume yet again, to say that the film gives a good idea of what the book should have been like.
Anyway, the film. Fortunately, you don’t have to have read the book to follow it. The atmosphere is dark, as you’d expect. The members of the eponymous (meaning “of the same name”, not a type of glue) Order are all visibly tired and prematurely aged. The casting requires little comment, as all the adults are accomplished actors and fulfill their roles with brio – especially the Nasties: Jason Isaacs can do smoothly venomous with one hand tied behind his back and Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange, looking like a Corpse Bride gone wrong, is wonderfully insane. The Alan Rickman fan club will not be disappointed either. I still think Ralph Fiennes’s makeup makes him look like the avenging ghost of the English Patient, though.
The great question of course is: if the scenario, direction and performances of the regular actors are all up to scratch, what then of the dreaded Dolores Jane Umbridge? Does this year’s Dark Arts teacher make or break the film? I have to admit I had grave doubts on seeing the trailer. Fear not, for Imelda Staunton’s majestic performance as the saccharine poison sac is everything it could be hoped to be, and that from the moment she first opens her mouth.
As for the children, they’re still growing up and acquiring experience. One or two still seem to think that being evil means mugging outrageously, Hermione Granger’s lines tend to be unrealistic and cringeworthy – hardly the fault of the young actress afflicted with them – but on the whole they acquit themselves honorably of their task. The new character, Luna Lovegood, is exactly right.
Despite the breathtaking broom ride near the start of the film, the joint efforts of the Weasley twins to brighten up dull exams, and the spectacular magical battle towards the end, overall the film lacks action. Again, this is more the fault of the book than anything. It does not lack pace, however, and passed the Great Watch Test (based on how often you look at your watch to see how long before the end of the film) with ease. I’d give it 7 out of 10.