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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 00:01 GMT
Potter conjures up more magic
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Daniel Radcliffe returns as Harry Potter

Harry Potter is back on the big screen, and his millions of fans can breathe a sigh of relief.

They will be on the edge of their seats as the boy wizard battles evil, millions of spiders and a particularly nasty giant snake.

The film - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - is an adaptation of J K Rowling's second book in her phenomenally successful series.

And it tells an altogether darker and funnier tale than the first box office-storming Potter movie.

It follows the tried and trusted formula of Harry leaving his loathsome adoptive family for Hogwarts boarding school - this time in a flying car - and joining his friends Ron and Hermione for perilous adventures, mystery-solving and a slap-up feast at the end of it all.

Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh plays the idiotic Gilderoy Lockhart
Without giving away the plot (although I imagine most of the audience will have read the book), the tale involves murder, betrayal, a smattering of romance and, of course, lots of rule-breaking in the middle of the night.

Harry is a year older and wiser, and this time he ends up going it alone by the end of the film - often in mortal danger - relying on his growing magical powers and instincts.

The action is fast-paced and follows a complex plot - frightening at times - and even non-Harry Potter fans will be hard-pushed not to get drawn in by it all.

Harry has to solve the mystery of who is putting Hogwarts under threat of closure by turning pupils to stone and writing on the walls in blood.

Richard Harris as Dumbledore
Richard Harris made his last screen appearance in the film
He also has to discover who is upsetting the ghost who inhabits the girls' toilet, Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson).

But although Daniel Radcliffe puts in a sterling performance as Harry, overshadowing the other two child stars Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, the show is somewhat stolen by Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh strikes a perfect balance as the idiotic teacher Gilderoy Lockhart, who manages to make women swoon every time he flashes a smile, while being immensely irritating the men around him, not least Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman).

Other star turns include Julie Walters as the mother of the red-headed Weasley clan, and the Fast Show's Mark Williams as her husband, who stands up to the dastardly Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs).


And the enormous acting talents of the late Richard Harris, as well as Dame Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane provide much of the film's backbone, allowing the children to take centre stage with their adventures.

Although it is very much a children's film, there is enough going on in it to keep most adults amused. Branagh's comic abilities do much to enhance what would otherwise be a rollercoaster ride through the book.

The special effects also deserve a mention, especially the terrifyingly fast-paced game of Quidditch and the computer-generated character Dobby the elf, who has a habit of punishing himself by crashing his head into walls and wailing.

The film is better and more exciting than the first movie, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and is guaranteed to be a box-office smash. Director Chris Columbus should be able to sit back and watch the profits roll in.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is released on 15 November.

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