I sometimes feel terribly alone: being the one person in the entire world who hasn't read the Harry Potter books --- well nothing after the first volume-and-a-half which, when you consider how HUGE the later books have become, probably means scarcely 1% of everything J K Rowling has written...

So, I am both the worst and the best person to tell you about the latest (fifth - but you knew that!) film in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, opening nationwide on Thursday. The worst, because I have absolutely no idea how many magical moments of that great doorstop of a volume has been pared away in order to keep the running time of the film below 180 mins; the best, because, if it works for me then it works, first and foremost, as a film rather than as an adaptation of a book... Which it does - and rather splendidly, too!

That said, I did find that I needed to keep my wits about me - because it's all too easy to miss some of the star-turns' cameoettes! For example, Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney) had no more than a couple of speaking scenes while Warwick Davis (Filius Flitwick) had only a couple of non-speaking dittos. But, then even the divine Dame Maggie (Professor Minerva McGonagall) only gets a couple of moments in the spotlight.

I think I noticed David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), but I'm not sure if he actually spoke; Fiona Shaw (Petunia Dursley) did say something, but it was only one line - or maybe just a half... And yes, that does means the dire Dursleys are back on screen which, as far as I'm concerned, is not a plus point; never mind, the Weasley tribe have also returned in force with Arthur and Molly, as always, looking out for Harry and the Twins, Fred and George, providing some excellent fun just as things are teetering on getting a bit serious.

I won't bother to give you a synopsis of the plot, if you know the book, you don't need me to tell you about it and, if not... well, never mind, you'll understand (more or less) all you need to know when you see it!

Suffice it to say, that despite the obvious complexities of the story, the whole thing zips merrily (and later scarily) along and contains several truly enchanting scenes as when, during Harry's secret training sessions, the young opponents of He Who Must Not Be Named (aka Ralph Fiennes) conjure fanciful birds and creatures out of magic dust; and a tour de force finale that is desperately dramatic and --- since you know the books, you'll know why --- terribly traumatic.

The special effects are some of the best in the series, so far - especially those involving Fred and George and a fantastical fireworks dragon. Hagrid's cgi brother is less impressive and there are one or two dodgy shots of the junior wizards and witches flying their brooms over modern day London, where suspension of disbelief has to be temporarily - er - suspended!

As a side-note, I have to say that seeing HP & Co skimming past Canary Wharf Tower and the Gherkin reminded me of a question that always bugs me about the world of Hogwarts: how come no one has a mobile phone and they obviously don't have access to computers? As long as I think of Hogwarts as existing some time in the past - rather like Greyfriars School attended by Master B Bunter - it really doesn't bother me; but seeing its pupils whizzing across a 2007 London skyline got me puzzling again...

Anyway, I guess you really shouldn't think too much about the logic in a Potter film: I mean how come a young wizard as deft with the wand as Harry needs half a dozen representatives from the Order of the Phoenix to rescue him from the back bedroom of number 4 Privet Drive, when the door is secured with nothing more than a flimsy-looking B&Q lock?

But enough...


Daniel Radcliffe seems to me to be getting better as maturity gives him a leaner-meaner look and he copes valiantly with The Kiss which appears pretty experienced for a first-timer and, unlike his love scenes on stage in Equus is achieved whilst wearing school uniform! Apart from Harry's kisee, Cho Chang (Katie Leung) there's a new contender for Harry's emotional interest: Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) who has a melting Irish brogue and spooky charm. Emma Watson's Hermione remarkably avoids being upstaged by these Other Women and only Rupert Grint's Ron seems to have become rather marginalised - probably because everyone's finally realised what most us knew from day one: that, nice kid though he doubtless is, he really can't act!

The star of the show - apart from Gary Oldman who gives a spirited and poignant farewell performance as Sirius Black - is undoubtedly the fabulous Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbrage, a poisonous pink marshmallow who becomes Hogwarts' new Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor and later replaces the discredited Dumbledore.

Staunton's portrayal of Professor Umbridge (like Kenneth Branagh's Gilderoy Lockhart in H P & the Chamber of Secrets) is an instance of the films providing the defining portrayal of the Rowling characters and Dolores' twittering personality and silly, frivolous appearance (dressed like a cross between Barbara Cartland and Miss Marple) are in sharp contrast to her cruelly malicious nature. It is, without question, a deliciously bravura performance!

Written by Brian Sibley