Harry Potter and friends prepare to face the Dark Lord in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Grainger), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eyed Moody), Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Fiona Shaw (Petunia Dursley), Maggie Smith (Minerve McGonagall), Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Emma Thompson (Sybill Trelawney), Julie Walters (Mrs Weasley), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Katie Leung (Cho Chang), David Bradley (Argus Filch), Natalie Tena (Tonks), George Harris (Kingsley Shacklebolt)
By the fifth film, the Harry Potter franchise was really on a roll – and a lot of the core creative team that would carry the series through to the final film were in place. It’s particularly striking how much a distinctive look and tone the series now had, that is both different from the books and a logical extension of them. It’s also the film where I think the series finally decided it would tell it’s own version of Rowling’s story, rather than an exact staging.
Rather than simply tightening the plot of Rowling’s mammoth book, Order of the Phoenix decided to rework the story to deliver what it wanted to do. Vast amounts of Hogwarts material is ruthlessly cut, including large sections of Ron and Hermione’s sub-plots. The film streamlines the story, reducing Harry’s feelings of isolation in the story (the film instead centres the importance of friendship and loyalty). And despite turning one of the longest books in the series into the shortest film, this captures the sense of the book excellently. It clearly identifies the key themes that drive Rowling’s series and runs with these very effectively. This film, more than any others so far, shows the deep bonds of loyalty that connect not just the central trio, but also the other members of the school. The Dumbledore’s Army sequences have a wonderful sense of camaraderie about them – these people genuinely feel like a group of friends.
These sequences also give Daniel Radcliffe some great material to play with. Harry clearly would make a hell of a teacher – Radcliffe makes him encouraging and supportive, capable of drawing the best out of his students. Radcliffe does his expected excellent job all the way through this film. His ability to play scenes of grief and longing has increased dramatically – his reaction to the death of Sirius Black is really well done. But he also presents Harry as essentially a warm and caring person – exactly the polar opposite of the man Voldemort has become. It’s another terrific performance.
Order of the Phoenix was David Yates’ first film as a director of the series – Yates has gone on to direct all the subsequent outings in the Potterverse – and part of the reason he seems to have cemented the role is that he gives a perfect mixture of Columbus, Cuarón and Newell. He can juggle elements of Rowling’s story, he works very well with actors, he has enough creativity and vision as a director to present this world in interesting new ways. He’s a perfect combination of a number of skills from the previous directors – and he really runs with that legacy here.
Order of the Phoenix is a dark and gorgeously shot movie, with a tight story structure (it’s the only film not written by Steven Kloves, and Michael Goldenberg’s fresh take on the film I think really helps). Every scene has a painterly brilliance, and scenes simmer with tension and paranoia – Yates doesn’t lose track of the fact that Harry is being persecuted by the authorities for taking an unpopular stance on Voldemort’s return.
Yates establishes his intention to turn this into a notably darker episode from the very start, opening with a vicious Dementor attack (redesigned to make them more fluid). This is followed quickly by a show trial at the Ministry. Then to a darker, gloomier Hogwarts now a den of unjust rules (the expulsion of Thompson’s gentle Sybil Trelawney is a particular fine heartstring-tugging moment), and cruel punishments. It’s a film that never allows us to forget death has entered Harry’s world. By the time we hit the final battle sequences in the Ministry of Magic, we know our heroes are putting their lives on the line. Scary as this is, we also appreciate the bonds of love that have taken them there all the more.
A lot of the creep and cruelty of the film emerge from Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge. Staunton is brilliantly cast as the twee ministry official who hides a ruthless viciousness, buttressed by a sociopathic conviction that whatever she does must be right. Staunton’s soft politeness is the perfect vehicle for showing Umbridge’s sadistic cruelty. Umbridge is the worst form of politician –blindly following the orders of any authority figure who can promote her on their coat-tails. The design of her character is similarly spot-on: she dresses almost exclusively in fluffy pink knitted suits, and her office is an explosion of pink, china plates and fluffy animal pictures. Staunton is almost unbelievably vile in her smug, condescending moral emptiness.
It’s further evidence of what a brilliant job this series did with casting. By this point, truly great actors were appearing in this film while sharing less than a dozen lines between them: Thewlis, Gleeson, Smith, Thompson and even Coltrane get remarkably little do in this film, but still seize your attention. Wonderful performances also come from the less famous names: George Harris gives a brilliant twinkly wisdom and gravity to Kingsley Shacklebolt while Robert Hardy (quietly excellent in the previous films) gets some more material to showcase his skills as the wilfully blind Fudge.
Of the other stand-outs, Helena Bonham Carter is brilliantly malevolent as the psychotic Bellatrix. Jason Isaacs gets some marvellous moments of smooth patrician wickedness as Malfoy. Gary Oldman is the ideal roguish father-figure as Sirius, the actor’s obvious bond with Radcliffe really coming across. Gambon is very comfortable now as Dumbledore, really showing the authority behind his Dumbledore’s eccentricity.
Then you have actors who dominate from mere minutes of screen-time. Fiennes again delivers in a short scene at the close of the picture. And then of course we get Rickman: he makes so much of such brief moments as Snape. He has probably the two biggest laugh-out-loud moments (both totally reliant on his delivery of non-descript words like “Obviously”). His occlumency classes with Harry showcase him at his best: trying to help, but unable to overcome his essential bitterness and resentment. These sequences are wonderfully contrasted with Harry’s comfort as a teacher to his friends: by contrast Snape is dismissive, impatient and unsympathetic.
The film finds moments of humanity and comedy throughout. Rupert Grint finally gets to show another side of Ron, as Ron matures slightly into a loyal wing-man , who makes it clear he will not countenance criticism of Harry in his hearing. And while this is a dark film, it’s also the one that deals with Harry’s growing romantic feelings for Cho – and he gets a beautifully played little romance that reminds us that Harry is (at the end of the day) still a nervous kid. It’s a film that understands friendship and love and their importance.
So it’s why the final battle sequence in the Ministry of Magic works so well. Tense and dangerous, we also root overwhelmingly for the courage of the kids. The work Yates had done on the wizard battles really pays off – they have a greater sense of choreography than ever before, while the apparating (in a trailing, misty, fast-moving cloud) really adds a fantastic visual element. Little shots work so well – I love the cut from Harry fighting alongside Sirius to his friends crouching behind a rock staring up at their friend in awe. It’s a beautiful reminder that what Harry is doing is so brave.
Of course, the film ends in the series’ first truly gripping wizard fight as we finally get Dumbledore taking on Voldemort. It was a great sequence in the book – and is translated wonderfully to the screen with a series of gripping visuals. There are brilliant beats throughout and we learn about the characters. We see Voldemort’s targeting of the defenceless Harry throughout, the way Dumbledore puts himself in the way of danger (including angrily throwing Harry backwards with magic when he steps forward). Above all you see Harry’s own courage (and his impulsiveness motivated by caring so much).
Order of the Phoenix is another excellent entry into a series that flourished and became richer the longer it went on. Yates showed that he was in tune with the fundamental ideas of Rowling’s writing and that he was able to marry excellent performances with impressive visuals. It’s brilliantly made – shot wonderfully, very well edited with a marvellous score – and is an impressive and muscular piece of film making. Very impressive.