The new Harry Potter film opens with a grim declaration from Bill Nighy’s character, a stern-looking Minister of Magic: "These are dark times, there is no denying." His words serve as a warning to prepare us for the events that follow in what is easily the most adult Potter film yet.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I – seventh film in the series and first of a two-part finale – there are moments that are likely to unnerve even grown-ups in the audience. A Hogwarts teacher meets with an unpleasant end, Hermione is brutally tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange, and deadly snakes show up and create trouble. There are several appearances by Voldemort too, who raises the stakes, pulling out all stops in his relentless pursuit of the boy wizard.

The first film in the series to be set away from Hogwarts, Deathly Hallows Part I sees our three protagonists – Harry, Hermione and Ron (played by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) – on the run from Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters. Along the way, as they navigate through thick forests and camp out in the wilderness, they must track down various things that will help them fight against the evil forces. These include a ‘horcrux’ containing a sliver of Voldemort’s soul, and the coveted sword of Gryffindor. They must also decode a peculiar design that holds the key to the deathly hallows.

Directed by David Yates, the franchise’s longest serving director with four films under his belt, Deathly Hallows Part I is a tough slog for anyone unfamiliar with Potter past. From the fourth instalment onwards, the Harry Potter movies ceased to work as stand-alone films, and this one, in particular is impossible to comprehend if you haven’t followed the story.

For faithful fans, however, the great payoff in this film, is watching the three leads rise to face the emotional challenges they’re confronted with. Rupert Grint offers rare maturity to those scenes in which his character, Ron, is consumed by a bout of jealousy over the closeness between Harry and Hermione. You can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness as Hermione casts a spell to remove all trace of herself from her parents’ memories; and equally poignant is the scene in which Harry visits the grave of his murdered parents.

But the film is not without exciting moments. The most terrific is the sight of seven Harry Potters in the same frame, achieved in the film thanks to some handy polyjuice potion. Soon after, there’s a thrilling chase sequence in which Hagrid and Harry dodge Voldemort’s Death Eaters by indulging in some gravity-defying stunts on a motorcycle. My favourite, however, is a lovely scene that occurs during a tense portion while they’re hiding out in the forest. To lighten the mood in their tent, Harry urges Hermione to dance with him to a faint tune coming from a ramshackle radio. It’s one of those rare moments that manages to be incredibly sweet and yet leaves you with that lump-in-the-throat feeling when it’s over.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is an engaging film for the franchise’s loyalists, but at 2 hours at 26 minutes it’s too long and painfully slow, particularly that portion in the outdoors during which our heroes mostly wait around pensively in a tent. The film ends too abruptly, with the death of a beloved character, but it whets your appetite for what promises to be a big showdown in the final film that will be released next July.

I’m going with three out of five for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. Despite its lapses, it’s a thrilling lead-up to the big finish.

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