Harry Potter - still absolutely magical on 20th anniversary

REVIEW: 20th Anniversary Harry Potter & The Philosophers Stone, (PG), (152 minutes), Cineworld Cinemas

Harry Potter (Warner Bros)
Harry Potter (Warner Bros)

Just those opening bars are enough. Your spine tingles and you are right back there, right back in that remarkable world of Harry Potter.

And the terrific thing is that within moments, it’s abundantly clear: it’s a world which has lost absolutely none of its ability to thrill us and to transport us, to move us and to lift us.

It’s frightening to think it’s now 20 years since this first film hit the screens. How can it possibly be?

But it’s wonderful to see it again, in this 20th anniversary year, exactly as we all first saw it, in the cinemas, the big screen just perfect for its huge ambitions. Of course, there is sadness. We’ve lost Richard Griffiths, Alan Rickman, John Hurt and Richard Harris since this film was made. And it’s impossible not to wonder what kind of Dumbledore Harris would have made had he lived to complete the series. He was certainly excellent here.

But against that poignancy, it’s hugely exhilarating to be right back at the start of it all, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson looking so incredibly young and fresh in this first instalment. And what a cast, with Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith and Julie Walters all in the mix too.

Just a few years before, J K Rowling had created an astonishingly detailed, coherent world. The first film, this revival reminds us, translated it all to the big screen quite brilliantly.

Its mix of big names and names yet to emerge could so easily have toppled over its weird world of wizardry and witchcraft, but what instantly impresses is the sheer craft of the film-making. The story has a beautiful flow which intrigues at first at first and then pulls you in. Of course, there is so much that is completely familiar, but there is plenty you will have forgotten – and the whole thing romps along, hitting the ground running to envelop us in this strange school where staircases move, where portraits talk and where trolls are let loose in the cellar by those with evil in their minds.

But what the film maybe handles best of all is Harry’s dawning realisation of his destiny as he goes from sad orphan living in a cupboard under the stairs to a magical hero battling Voldemort as he begins to stir again.

Throughout, the characterisation is a delight.

Radcliffe’s Harry is all cheeky grin and wonder giving way to steely resolve as he starts to play his part in an epic battle; Watson’s Hermione is superior, swotty and somehow vulnerable: and Grint’s Ron adds the humour. And then there are the ambiguities. Rickman’s Snape is a wonderful creation. Just what on earth is he up to? Director Chris Columbus orchestrates it all magnificently in this Harry Potter screen debut. Of course, he was handed gold with the characters and story he was given, but it took a very special film to do them justice – which is precisely what he did all those years ago in 2001.

The fact that the film is so hugely enjoyable 20 years later underlines just how much Harry and gang have stood the test of time.