Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) are back at Hogwarts and there’s a new potions teacher, Horace Slughorn (Broadbent). Harry finds a book on the subject which belonged to a mysterious figure calling himself the Half-Blood Prince, and Draco Malfoy (Felton) is up to no good, although Harry doesn’t know exactly what. Meanwhile, the Death Eaters are causing havoc in both the wizarding and Muggle worlds and Professor Dumbledore (Gambon) is trying to obtain some vital information from Slughorn to help in the ongoing battle against the evil Lord Voldemort.
Another summer, another Potter film and two years on from the previous instalment it’s more of the same from director David Yates. It’s a slightly strange film to review in the sense that everyone with any interest in going to see it will know the story so it’s more about how it’s told, what it looks like and what survives the cut from novel to screenplay. At first glance, it seems that everything has survived because at more than two and a half hours long this is a monster of a film. Extreme length isn’t always a bad thing but here it does feel a bit ponderous and at least one sub-plot could have been shelved without any damage to the plot.
The Half-Blood Prince is darker than any of the previous films, both figuratively and literally and Yates has captured the sense of foreboding well with some eye-catching use of shadows and swirling special effects heightening the mood. It’s also the funniest of the Potter films, with Ron’s love life and Harry and Hermione’s reaction to it proving consistently amusing, both in the dialogue and the way it’s delivered. Watson, Grint and Radcliffe are far more accomplished actors nowadays, a far cry from their hesitant, hammy early years. Alan Rickman turns in his usual excellent snarling, sneering performance as Snape and as usual doesn’t get as much screen time as his talents deserve. But the real plaudits must go to Jim Broadbent who steals every scene he’s in with a masterclass of facial expressions and comic timing.
In the end though, the lack of truly scary or thrilling set pieces and somewhat pedestrian pace means that this is nothing more than a solid addition to the Harry Potter canon. It’s well acted, well written and well produced and while there’s plenty to satisfy the fans, there’s not enough for it to be considered anything like a classic.