Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, David Yates, 146 mins (12A)

If you haven't read the books, the latest Potter plot will whizz over your head like a broomstick

The flaw in the last couple of Harry Potter films was that, rather than being discrete stories, each was one-seventh of a much longer story. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is different: it is one-fourteenth.

JK Rowling's final novel has been split into two films, so in two-and-a-half hours all we get is one-half of one-seventh of the series. No wonder it's unsatisfying. A "previously on Harry Potter" caption wouldn't have gone amiss, but HP7 doesn't make the slightest concession to viewers who aren't already conversant with its byzantine mythology, its ever-expanding throng of characters or its bewildering range of spells and totems. If you don't understand the question, "Did R.A.B. destroy the real Horcrux?", then most of the film will fly over your head like an enchanted broomstick. Still, at least HP7 makes some strides towards a finale. The first of the films not to be set in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft And Wizardry, it gets going just as the battle between good and evil is escalating to all-out war.

Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his crowd of followers have decided that the time is right to kill Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), so he and his faithful if grumpy sidekicks, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), go into hiding in the countryside. When they're not bickering with each other or tramping through the woods, they try to find the talismans that hold the key to Voldemort's power. And then, just in case they didn't have enough vitally important trinkets to gather, they hear about three more, known as the Deathly Hallows.

The gang's quest may seem as arbitrary as the token-collecting in a video game, but it does provide a pretext for one outstanding set-piece. Disguising themselves as adults (not too difficult), Harry and co sneak into the Ministry of Magic, a gleaming black labyrinth of offices which, under Voldemort's influence, has become an Orwellian fascist bureaucracy, complete with 1940s-style posters denouncing racial impurity. This fast, farcical heist sequence could easily have been the centrepiece of the film, like the rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star. But unfortunately there are about 23 other plot snippets to fit in, too. As a whole, the movie is a long, exhausting trudge, weighed down by its gloomy mood and its lack of heroics. Harry's most significant achievement is to locate a magical sword, but that happens only because a ghostly stag (a "Patronus", I'm told) pops up and leads him straight to it. Surely that's cheating.

Maybe we shouldn't blame the film's director, David Yates, for all of its shortcomings. By the time he climbed aboard, the Harry Potter gravy train had been trundling along for years. Other directors had already established that the films would be literal, scene-by-scene translations of the books, however unwieldy that made them. And the cast was in place before Yates's tenure, too, so it's not his fault that Radcliffe is so lifeless, or that Watson doesn't appear to be acting so much as responding to someone who's just off-camera, shouting: "Now put on a sad face! Now put on an angry face!"

Joining this pop-cultural juggernaut after a career in television, Yates was never likely to upset the status quo by arguing, for instance, that the story would flow more smoothly if it missed out Rhys Ifans's Xenophilius Lovegood. Or that if you're going to insert John Hurt into a dungeon scene, someone should explain what he's doing there. Or that, in general, none of the excellent character actors – Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, et al – is given enough to do.

But while Yates may not be solely responsible for the way the franchise has turned out, his three films – this one and the previous two – are the only ones which don't make sense unless you've swotted up on your Potter lore in advance, so they do raise the question of how another, bolder director might have reinvigorated the series.

It seems that Yates's only goal was to get all the key scenes down on screen in the correct order, and he does that well enough to keep the fans happy. What he's made isn't really a film at all but a lavish set of book illustrations which are a splendid visual accompaniment to Rowling's text, but which don't mean much without it.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees whether Unstoppable, Ridley Scott's Denzel Washington-vs-runaway-train thriller, lives up to its name

Also Showing: 21/11/2010

Chico & Rita (94 mins, 15)

A delightful hand-drawn cartoon for grown-ups, Chico & Rita boasts gangsters, mojitos, sizzling Cuban jazz, and the most curvaceous animated pin-up since Jessica Rabbit. At its heart is a sweet but fiery romance between a pianist and a chanteuse who meet in 1940s Havana. They belong together, both professionally and personally, but they're driven apart as they try to make it in New York, Hollywood and Paris. The cities are re-created in fabulous period detail, and various jazz legends of the era make guest appearances.

Peeping Tom (101 mins, 15)

Fiftieth-anniversary reissue of Michael Powell's controversial, Freudian slasher movie, featuring a murderous film cameraman who makes Norman Bates seem mildly neurotic.

Adrift (97 mins, 15)

In this Brazilian coming-of-age drama, the crumbling marriage of an irresponsible writer (Vincent Cassel) and his whisky-swigging wife is observed by their 14-year-old daughter over the course of a summer by the beach in the 1980s. Once you get past the sun-bleached look and the casual chemistry between Cassel and his family, the characters aren't very involving, and their story bobs around without going anywhere. The title's all too appropriate.

Dream Home (96 mins, 18)

Brutal horror-comedy in which a young woman commits multiple murder to obtain a flat with a view of Hong Kong harbour. You soon get the satirical gist about rapacious property developers pushing first-time buyers to homicidal extremes, but the film keeps hammering the point home in dull sob-story flashbacks to the killer's past. It's hard to sympathise after two naked girls and one heavily pregnant woman have been treated to lingering death scenes.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits