The war against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses. And yet... As in all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate – and lose a few eyebrows in the process. The Weasley twins expand their business. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.
So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort – and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability.

Not-so-young wizards weave their greatest magic.

A lot has changed in the two years since audiences were last transported to the magical realm of the Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and it’s all to the good.

The sixth edition of J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster franchise finds our young wizards have grown measurably, with teenage hormones raging amid jealousies and intrigues, as they face the most sinister threats yet from the emissaries of the Dark Lord.

As a result, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a more mature, nuanced, intelligent and emotionally well-rounded movie: arguably the best and technically most accomplished of the series.

The stunning opening sequence sees the Death Eaters attack London, mangling bridges and wreaking havoc. Dumbledore takes Harry along to persuade former colleague Horace Slughorn to return to Hogwarts as the new potions professor and, he hopes, to provide crucial information about arch-enemy’s Voldemort’s school days.

Meanwhile Draco Malfoy is assigned a deadly mission, egged on by the black-hearted Professor Snape and the psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange. There are some terrific, ingeniously orchestrated set-pieces including a frantic nocturnal chase through cornfields, a scary scene in a cave where Harry and Dumbledore search for clues to the Dark Lord’s power, and memories of encounters with Tom Riddle, the young Voldemort. Much of the suspense hinges on Harry’s quest to find the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, whose name is scribbled in an old textbook he finds.

The romantic entanglements generate plenty of humour: The amorous Lavender Brown’s infatuation with Ron is a running joke, Harry takes a shine to Ron’s sister Ginny, and Hermione strives to suppress her feelings for Ron. 'These girls will be the death of me," Ron laments at one point. Asked why he and Harry are always present when trouble happens, he answers: 'Believe me, I’ve been asking myself the same question for six years." The Quidditch games are fast, exhilarating and fun, and in one hilarious scene, a love potion makes Ron truly lovesick.

As the central trio, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all get the chance to display their talents as their characters evolve and blossom, adding a dimension that wasn’t there before. The great Michael Gambon is at his imperious best as Harry’s mentor and protector Dumbledore; few actors can deliver lines like 'Oh to be young and feel love’s keen sting" with as much panache.

Jim Broadbent, who is wittily introduced disguised as an armchair, brings a wry humour as well as pathos to the eccentric Slughorn, a man tormented by a dark secret he has long harboured.

Among the villains, Alan Rickman personifies precisely-enunciated malevolence as Snape, Tom Felton is excellent as Malfoy, who struggles with his destiny, and Helena Bonham Carter snarls and hisses as the demented Bellatrix.

It’s like meeting old friends as we see the return of such familiar faces as Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall and David Thewlis as Remus.

Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves achieve the perfect balance between spectacular action, character-interaction, and lashings of spell-binding magic, and the momentum rarely falters over 153 minutes.

The climactic scenes set the stage for what should be a ripping finish to the series with the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: we can expect to see the first instalment in November 2010 and the second in July 2011.