It's another epic slice of Pottermania, but despite the running time, this is a leaner and darker piece than The Philosopher's Stone. It's still obvious that screenwriter Steven Kloves is under orders to cram every page of the sizeable novel onto the screen, but the plot flows more swiftly and far more easily this time. There's a genuine sense of menace as Harry battles both the voices in his head, and the increasing suspicion of his classmates. But there's also time for lighter set pieces, like Ron and Harry's desperate attempt to reach Hogwarts by enchanting a car, only to find out that flying vehicles are a hazardous way to travel...
With so much narrative to be covered, the rich gallery of characters get somewhat less screen-time. The late Richard Harris makes the most of his chances to deepen headmaster Dumbledore's fatherly relationship with Harry, and demonstrates why he'll be much missed. The trio of child actors rise to the occasion, with Daniel Radcliffe obviously relishing the greater emotional challenges of this instalment. But this film really belongs to a pair of newcomers. Jason Isaacs contributes a performance of precisely controlled malice as Lucius Malfoy, making him an intelligent and dangerous adversary. In a small but pivotal role, relative newcomer Christian Coulson shines as the mysterious Tom Riddle, former pupil and ghost, of sorts, who holds the key to the whole mystery.
Yes, the film could have been tighter, sharper, darker - and certainly, shorter. But it's good solid entertainment, with something for all ages, and certainly bound to please the boy wizard's many fans. It's the perfect family film for a long dark winter's afternoon.