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Itís Harry Potterís third year at Hogwarts and itís promising to be as eventful as ever. A mass-murdering wizard loyal to Voldemort has escaped from prison seemingly determined to finish his masterís work and kill Harry.
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Another boring summer holiday with his Aunt and Uncle ends with Harry losing control and using magic on his Uncleís sister. He runs away and is picked up by the Knight Bus, a purple triple-decker, which takes him to the Leaky Cauldron. There he meets the Minister of Magic who tells him he isnít in trouble for using magic outside of school, strange considering this is usually taken very seriously, but then Harry is soon going to find out he has more important things to worry about.
He learns from Mr Weasley that a wizard by the name of Sirius Black, a notorious mass murderer, has escaped from Azkaban, the wizarding prison. Apparently he was a disciple of Voldemort and blames Harry for his masterís demise. He is now on the hunt for Harry, with the desire to kill him in order to facilitate Voldemortís return to full power. Mr Weasley tells Harry not to go looking for Black. Why would he go looking for someone who wants to kill him? It seems there is more to Sirius Black than meets the eye...
This film, along with the others in the series, is a real showcase for the cream of British acting talent. There are fine performances from Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon (taking over from Richard Harris as Dumbledore). The three leads have matured and developed and look much more comfortable in their roles. Gary Oldman as Sirius Black is an inspired piece of casting. Famed for playing madmen and bad guys but more recently he has come to portray guardian figures for heroes such as in the new Batman films. Along with David Thewlis as Professor Lupin who also does an excellent job, he delivers a character with shadowy complexity which results in a credible and convincing performance. Both actors, playing characters who are firm fan favourites, excel during moments of serious emotion as well as those of good humour.
Professor Remus Lupin is a complicated and secretive character whom the audience has great sympathy for. There are many clues in the film as to what his deep, dark secret is. Professor Snape provides one when he covers a ĎDefence Against the Dark Artsí lesson, the subject he chooses to teach them is werewolves. When Lupin returns he looks a bit worse for wear; pale and drawn with scratches on his face. During one lesson, he steps in front of Harry to face the Boggart (which shape shifts into what you fear the most) and it turns into a full moon. His characterís secret isnít the most difficult mystery to solve, in fact itís incredibly simple if you just analyse his name: Romulus and Remus were two young boys brought up by wolves and Ďlupusí is the latin name for wolf. Itís interesting that he was bitten as a child when heíd already been given this name(!) Destiny? Or J.K. Rowling again giving characters names to reflect their nature.
The end of the film is not all happy and jolly like the first two were. Sirius is still a wanted man, Pettigrew escaped and Lupin must leave Hogwarts. It is rather poignant and makes way for the future films, which are going to get even darker, suggesting there isnít going to be a happy ending for everyone. Sirius flies away on Hagridís hippogryph, which ties up the first three films nicely because it is a reversal of the first filmís opening scene where Hagrid arrives on a flying motorbike (the book explains he borrowed this from Sirius). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of, if not, the best in the series. It has an interesting story, a skilful director, great characters, engaging actors, emotion, humour, secrets, twists, and even a bit of time-travel thrown in for good measure.