Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban is my favourite film of the series for several reasons. There’s a scene early on where Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon does his best to step in for Richard Harris, who was pretty much perfection in the role) addresses the students of Hogwarts at the start of the year, imparting to them how they must beware of darkness residing in their world, but not to forget the power of light, especially that of finding it in even the darkest of places. This is an important moment because with this film and the arrival of director Alfonso Cuarón to the franchise, there’s a distinct change in many aspects of the story, mainly a much darker tone than the first two which were helmed with orchestral gloss by Chris Columbus, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as I love those ones too. But with Cuarón there was not only a focus on the scarier, spookier aspects of the wizarding world, but an attention to detail, time spent on world building instead of breathlessly rushing from set piece to set piece, plus a deeper and more complex emotional core as Harry, Ron and Hermione become teenagers. Voldemort takes a bit of a vacation from terrorizing their world and is substituted by the shadowy, soul sucking dementors, as well as Gary Oldman’s sinister and omnipresent escaped convict Sirius Black. Oldman brings a haunted, unstable edge to Black in his initial scenes and a scrappy gravitas later when we learn the truth about his past. David Thewlis is a fantastic Professor Lupin, spiritual guide and mentor to Harry through some tough times, him and Oldman really class up the joint. There’s a playful inventiveness to this one that the first two just didn’t have, and it stems from the atypical approach often taken in adapting children’s books into films: the darkness, the unknown, the mature elements are often glossed over and the very palette of the story is somehow… simplified. That’s not to say that Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber Of Secrets weren’t dark, scary or mysterious.. they just lacked a certain maturity, genuine menace and pause to reflect on this arresting world and drink in every detail before the next action sequence. Prisoner Of Azkaban is the real deal, an entry with a standalone atmosphere that also sets the tone for some ‘dark and difficult times’ that indeed lie ahead for the rest of the story.