Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Harry Potter Movies

Released: 2004
Director: Alfonso Cuaron 

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson

A change of director brings a spectacular change of tone


After the massively successful first two Harry Potter films director Chris Columbus, best known for his child-centred comedies including Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire (we may have words about Mrs Doubtfire at some point, but they will all be bad ones) handed over the reins to Alfonso Cuaron whose own previous works include the decidely non child-friendly Y Tu Mama Tambien.  The change of tone is obvious from the very beginning of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.  This is a much darker story than either of the first two films and we are left in no doubt that danger is lurking everywhere, even in a children’s playground where the gently rocking swings have a decidedly menacing air.  The dangers Harry faces are more immediate than ever before – a murderer has escaped from prison and is seeking him out, and the prison guards appear to be especially fixated on Harry who relives his mother’s murder every time they come close.

Just as JK Rowling’s novel turns up the action, adventure and thrills, so too does this brilliant film adaptation yet just as the book lightens the mood when needed, the film also has its amusing moments from the blowing up of obnoxious Aunt Marge to the Knight Bus whizzing magically through the streets of London.  I feel the need to point out the element of gritty realism here – anyone who has suffered the surliness of public transport staff and the seemingly crazy driving will immediately recognise that the Knight Bus is operated by Transport for London.

Having been unkind about the acting abilities of the young leads in Chamber of Secrets, my opinion is totally reversed in this film which shows a real improvement.  All three stars are maturing nicely into their roles.  Emma Watson is particularly good as Hermione and Rupert Grint shows great comic timing as Ron. Daniel Radcliffe as Harry really impresses as a leading man for the first time in the franchise.  Again the adult cast are outstanding.  More and more British acting talent is involved in the series and the quality that they bring shines through – Gary Oldman is suitably insane as the convicted mass murder Sirius Black who appears to be targeting Harry and David Thewlis shines as new Defence Against The Dark Arts Professor, Remus Lupin.  The returning cast all continue to impress and Michael Gambon assumes the role of Dumbledore nicely, replacing Richard Harris who died shortly before the premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Comedian Jim Tavare provides a great cameo as Tom, the cackling landlord of the Leaky Cauldron pub.

As the film covers dark events it is only fitting that there a number of really frightening scenes, particularly the one where the Dementors first appear before Harry, Ron and Hermione on the Hogwarts Express.  As the characters’ breaths become visible and the train window freezes over you feel a chill down your spine.  This is not a moment to leave faint-hearted children (or adults) on their own to watch.

The change in tone of the story and the vision of the new director is both welcome and enjoyable, although it does seem odd that this new vision involves physical changes to the landscape of Hogwarts.  Surely it wasn’t such a steep old trek to Hagrid’s hut in the first two films?  That’s a very small imperfection though,Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban is an outstanding film and leaves the viewer breathless in anticipation for Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts and the next film in the series.

Previous and next posts in this series:<< Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire >>
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