For Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the series saw its third and final change of director: David Yates would direct this film and the three that followed it. Despite being based on the longest book, this is one of the shortest films in the series at 2 hours and 18 minutes. And yet this film runs far more smoothly than Goblet of Fire: it’s a fantastic example of source material edited the right way.
Kicking off very rapidly with the Dementor attack on Harry and Dudley, the story includes almost all of the essential plot points from the book, and even the occasional non-essential one. Exposition is provided succinctly – such as around the dinner table at Grimmauld Place, and when Sirius talks to Harry, Ron and Hermione in the fireplace – while still being detailed enough to flesh things out compellingly. The pacing throughout is very good, aside from slowing down a little during the earlier part of the Hogwarts year. And the scenes all integrate neatly, such as when Hagrid comments on how a “storm’s coming” outside his hut (both metaphorically and in actuality), and we then cut to another storm surrounding Azkaban as the imprisoned Death Eaters are broken out.
I noted in my final thoughts on the book that Harry has a lot of growing up to do in this story, and the film recognises this, taking the time to cohesively develop some of the themes around the character. Harry’s isolation is emphasised by such things as him watching a Muggle family in a playground, and the hostile reception he initially receives in Gryffindor Tower; he even says at one point that he feels he has to go it alone, in spite of support being offered by his friends. But this changes, culminating in Harry using the memories of those he loves to resist Voldemort’s possession of him; the film actually makes a bigger deal of this attempted possession than the book does. Harry also openly worries about becoming more like Voldemort, needing Sirius to reassure him that he is “a good person that bad things have happened to” and that our choices and actions are more important than anything inherent inside us. This comes round again after Sirius’s death, when Harry has the opportunity to kill Bellatrix Lestrange, but ultimately can’t.
Some relatively unimportant scenes from the book are cut, and the timeline of various events is rearranged here and there; but the film also invents some enjoyable scenes and dialogue. There’s a bonding scene between Harry and Luna Lovegood in the woods, where they interact with the Thestrals, which I liked a lot. The montage of Dumbledore’s Army honing their skills, while Filch and the Inquisitorial Squad try to catch them out, is also a hilarious highlight: it gives Harry such new dialogue as “Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than we are now,” and describing the Stunning Spell as “a wizard’s bread and butter”.
The adaptation is not flawless, however. It’s never mentioned that it was Umbridge who sent the Dementors after Harry at the beginning, even though revealing this would have required literally three additional lines. The fate of Neville’s parents is only hinted at without being properly explained; the introduction of Grawp would probably feel random to non-book-readers who wouldn’t know about Hagrid being half-giant; and it’s not even mentioned why Voldemort wanted the prophecy so much. By having Cho Chang be the one to betray Dumbledore’s Army, instead of demonstrating her and Harry’s emotional incompatibility, the film rather misses the point of the Harry-Cho plotline in the book. And right after Harry has had his dream about Mr Weasley being attacked, when he’s still shaken and confused, Dumbledore apparently deems it appropriate for Snape to start giving him Occlumency lessons immediately.
I don’t like how, while Neville and Luna are given an adequate amount of screen-time and development, Ginny is kept in the background like in the previous films, with little effort made to expand her role: she still has very few lines, and the one useful thing she gets to do is a Reducto curse to slow down the Death Eaters in the Ministry. And I definitely don’t like how Sirius’s last words to Harry are “Nice one, James!” I get what the film was going for: conveying Sirius’s emotional fragility over his time in Azkaban and the loss of his best friend. In another scene, it might have worked, but did it really have to be the last thing Harry ever heard from his godfather? Just one word manages to undermine their otherwise heartwarming relationship.
As with Prisoner of Azkaban, Daniel Radcliffe really gets to show off how much his acting has improved with time, handling the turmoil that Harry goes through very convincingly. Upon meeting Ron and Hermione in Grimmauld Place, he doesn’t go into a loud rant like in the book, but manages to make it clear how angry and bitter he is in a more reserved fashion. Radcliffe has a great range of moments like this throughout: settling into the leadership of Dumbledore’s Army; shouting at Dumbledore in confusion and distress; and seeking reassurance from Sirius. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson give Ron and Hermione some great chemistry here; Ron even appears less inept than in previous films. (This may have something to do with the screenplay being written by Michael Goldenberg instead of Steve Kloves.) Michael Gambon gives a more congenial, Dumbledore-ish performance than in the previous film, apart from when he grumpily snaps “Don’t you all have studying to do?” at his students. This is also a good film for Alan Rickman: as well as his familiar contemptuous attitude, he also gets to bring some extra intensity to Snape in the Occlumency scenes.
Out of the new actors joining the series here, the two main ones are Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge – both of whom absolutely nail their characters. From her expressions to her movements, Lynch is exactly how you would imagine Luna, and having an Irish accent actually compliments the character very well. Staunton, meanwhile, gives Umbridge truly toxic levels of false sweetness and a highly punchable smug smile, successfully managing to be even more hateable than Voldemort himself: Harry’s detention with her manages to be even more disturbing on-screen than on paper. Also on the subject of new actors, Helena Bonham Carter definitely makes an impression with her limited screen-time, portraying the vicious and sadistic Bellatrix Lestrange.
Visually, the film is more grim than the first two, but still more colourful than Prisoner of Azkaban. There’s some good use of lighting, such as the comforting blue illumination inside the Room of Requirement, and the watery tinge inside Snape’s office. Some of the CGI – e.g. Grawp and the centaurs – isn’t great; but the set designs, especially Umbridge’s office, are as excellent as ever. I also liked how the camera sometimes passes through a series of newspaper headlines, which not only provides interesting transitions, but can get useful information across rapidly. I think the score for this film, composed by Nicholas Hooper, also deserves a mention: it provides some of the most memorable music from the whole series, always matching the relevant scenes and characters perfectly – from Umbridge’s theme, to that of Dumbledore’s Army.
Overall, with its smooth story, excellent acting and positive creative choices, Order of the Phoenix was actually better than I remembered, and I would even go so far as to rank it slightly above Prisoner of Azkaban.
Rating as a film: 4.5/5.
Rating as an adaptation: 4.5/5.