Harry Potter learns on his 11th birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses magical powers of his own. At Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. He learns the high-flying sport Quidditch and plays a thrilling game with living chess pieces on his way to face a Dark Wizard bent on destroying him.

1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 15 Jan 2016 - 12:20 PM
3.5

After all the hype and all the anticipation, there can't be many people in Australia unaware of Harry Potter, the boy magician raised by a hostile aunt and uncle, who make him sleep in the cupboard under the stairs. Harry is rescued from this dreary dwelling by Hagrid to be educated at Hogwarts Academy of Witchcraft. In that august establishment, Harry befriends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and finds himself fighting an evil, dark wizard who wants to steal the life-giving philosopher's stone.

As one who endured an English boarding school as a child, with its dubious traditions, its rivalry between houses, its communal dining and venerable headmaster, I found much of Harry Potter all too familiar: Professor Snape, played with sardonic malevolence by Alan Rickman, reminded me a lot of my old maths master. Harry, Daniel Radcliffe, is the epitome of the well-behaved boy who was destined to become school captain, while the nasty Draco Malfoy, Tom Felton, is obviously a little fascist in the making – probably a future cabinet minister.

I haven't read the books, but I'm assured this is a very faithful adaptation and that J.K. Rowling enjoyed a great deal of control over the picture, which is certainly very different from the earlier work of middle-of-the-road Chris Columbus. Robbie Coltrane's indiscreet Hagrid steals the show, but the fine cast of British actors are fun to have around; the special effects are clever, the sets are impressive – and the whole thing has the feel of a very careful, very respectful, and meticulously programmed enterprise. I can't say I'm holding out for the sequels.