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First Night: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Leicester Square, London

Magical end to franchise that cast its spell on cinema for a decade

So the wait was worth it. The eighth film of the seven-book series sees Harry Potter finally waving a wand in anger at his nemesis Lord Voldemort, and is not a disappointment.

The rationale of splitting the seventh book into a two-part film was, according to the film-makers, a necessity given the hefty size of JK Rowling's final book. But the second part also created another possibility – simply that director David Yates wanted to put all the boring and meandering moments of the book into the first film and then deliver a thrill ride giving the franchise the fitting finale it deserves.

The film wastes no time in getting down to business. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are in a hideout trying to formulate a plan to seek and destroy the remaining horcruxes, magical objects that make Lord Voldemort invincible. Harry strikes a deal with the goblin Griphook (voiced by Warwick Davis) to lead them to one hidden deep inside a bank vault.

The fact that the trio of actors are now adults is reinforced as Ron is disguised behind a beard that makes him look like a dashing Musketeer rather than a slapstick fancy dress character. It's to the main trio's credit that they never feel too old for the parts they are playing.

As they enter the bank, the decision to make use of 3D for the final episode seems a wise one, as puffs of smoke and blurred figures are used to create a sense of otherworldliness. The action then whizzes along to Hogwarts, which takes on the dark and sinister look that was a hallmark of director Alfonso Cuaron's contribution to the franchise. The school of magic is now under the stewardship of Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), and is run more like a prison than a place of learning.

The sequence that sees Harry confront Snape is most notable for giving Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall her best moment in the series. Smith positively revels in every line as she does battle with Rickman.

It's been a feature of the series that the adult characters have been a who's who of British character actors. In the early films these appearances served to highlight the deficiencies of the child thespians, but it's become apparent as the series has run that there has also been a handing over of the baton to a new generation.

Ralph Fiennes also gives Voldemort a remarkably human touch. As Harry realises how close he really is to the evil Lord, Voldemort himself shows signs of frailty and of being like Harry. What's intriguing is the number of times he is shown asking others for opinions. This humanising of his character makes him a far more interesting opponent than he's appeared throughout the franchise.

Yates gives the film an epic scale by so cleverly juxtaposing Voldemort and Harry.

'We would have come yesterday but for school'

* Ally Blanchard, 21, and her sister Lili, 24, came from Hertfordshire in home-made outfits complete with pom-poms. "We've been here for about six hours now," said Ally. "This is our fourth Potter premier. At the 6th one we actually met JK Rowling and got to speak to her. We said thank you very much for Harry Potter, and she just said, 'That's so sweet'. It was amazing to meet her, she's such an inspiration so many people.

* Declan Osborne, 7, arrived from Portsmouth with wand, Potter-esque glasses and face-paint lighting-bolt scar, to take out the day in Trafalgar Square. "We were here at 10am but obviously that was too late. He's got to be at school, so there was no way we could have come down yesterday. He wanted to see Daniel Radcliffe, so hopefully there's still a chance of that," said dad Paul.