(Technically, the review below might contain some spoilers, but since the world and its dog have already read the books anyway, they barely count.)
The sixth instalment in the Harry Potter series is, as ever, billed as darker than those that came before, and it could well be said that this is true. Not a huge amount happens by way of plot (certainly by Potter standards, which are normally so bursting with what that they forget the why), so there’s plenty of room to soak up the darker ambience. However, rather bizarrely juxtaposing with that darker mood is some awkward teenage romance stuff, most of which is rather terrible, if I’m honest.
Michal Gambon is as impressive as ever as Dumbledore, capturing just the right level of fatherliness. For the first time, I also thought Daniel Radcliffe did some great work when Harry takes the Felix Felicis. His tone changes, his demeanour lifts, his trademark cardboardness loosens, and he puts in a great couple of scenes – if only he could do that throughout!
However, the star of this film, stealing scenes from everyone left and right, is Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn. It has almost become a tradition in the Harry Potter franchise that the Dark Arts (in this case, Potions) professor will be by far the most interesting and best played character – Kenneth Brannagh as Gilderoy Lockheart, Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody and Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge; and Broadbent keeps that tradition going with a wonderful performance. He perfectly captures the vanity, loneliness and shame that make up Horace Slughorn, and his facial expressions alone make the film worthwhile.
Unfortunately, Emma Watson is disappointing once again. While undoubtedly a beautiful young woman, she simply lacks the ability as an actress to give Hermione any real strength as a character. Instead, she ends up sobbing and scolding her way through the film, an not really contributing. Doing far more with far less are Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, both of whom impress throughout; while Jessie Cave is perfectly, wonderfully, sublimely simpering, gooey and mushy as Lavender Brown.
And then we have the ending. Needlessly, disappointingly and poorly changed from the source material, the ending is rather anticlimactic. Where the book inserts a huge battle in the halls and grounds of Hogwarts, the film, well, doesn’t. Instead we get Harry running after Snape, only to get knocked on his arse. The reveal that follows, of the identity of the Half Blood Prince is pretty pathetic, with Alan Rickman delivering his lines so soaked in his patented “bad guy” tone that they flow like treacle. In short, while the ending of the book is frantic, exciting and heartbreaking the ending of the film is, well, none of these things; and that’s a real pity, as it’s one of the most powerful sequences in the entire series as a whole. I don’t typically like comparing a film adaptations to their book sources, but in the case of the Harry Potter films, they don’t particularly work if you haven’t read the books, so I feel it’s justified.
All in all then, Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince is better than I had expected, but, just as I had expected, worse than the book. So, the stage is set for the final two-parter. In the meantime, Half Blood Prince gets a B.