After ten years and eight films, Harry Potter’s cinematic saga has finally reached its conclusion – and it’s spellbinding.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 grips from the start. The end of JK Rowling‘s intricately plotted series is in sight and we’re rushing to get there. This isn’t going to be an occasion for lingering farewells. Nor for levity: we’re a long way from the high jinks and humour of earlier episodes. Be prepared instead for a dark and thrilling ride.

From the opening moments, which pick up the action where the last film left off, there’s a real sense of urgency about the storytelling. Voldemort‘s army of Death Eaters is preparing to launch a final assault on Hogwarts, and Harry, Ron and Hermione are racing against time to find the enchanted objects containing the final fragments of the Dark Lord’s soul in order to defeat him.

The breathless pace is a distinct change from the slower tempo and meditative mood of The Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Indeed, the previous outing was so slow and meditative that the filmmakers were content to leave Harry and his chums squabbling inside a tent for long stretches of time. With the conflict in the wizarding world between good and evil now reaching its very final stages, there’s no time here for anything so indulgent.

Director David Yates does press the pause button in one sequence, however – and it’s a stunning one; a time-out in the midst of the raging battle that takes place in an abstract, limbo-like white space where Harry encounters the spirit of Dumbledore (or, if you prefer, his unconscious projection of his mentor) and the shrivelled, whimpering remnant of Voldemort’s soul. The scene could almost come from an existential art-house film, yet it fits in perfectly here, such is the spell cast by Yates and his team.

Indeed, the filmmakers are all at the top of their game. Production designer Stuart Craig signs off with a flourish on his brilliant realisation of Rowling’s vision, while screenwriter Steve Kloves once again does a masterful job of gently tweaking her plot into cinematic shape.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Daniel Radcliffe

The actors are pretty magical too. As the saga draws to its close, longtime Potter spotters will take delight in the appearance of most of the series’ beloved characters: Maggie Smith’s wry Professor McGonagall, of course, David Thewlis’s stoic Remus Lupin, the mischievous Weasley twins and many more. Some familiar faces only pop up the fringes of the action – look out for a glimpse of Filch, Hogwarts’ curmudgeonly caretaker, grimly applying his broom to a corner of the rubble-strewn castle in the aftermath of battle.

Other characters who once seemed peripheral to the main thrust of the story now turn out to play a crucial role. Take Matthew Lewis’s Neville Longbottom. Not so long ago he was a chubby dork; now he’s a strapping young man wielding the mighty sword of Gryffindor with a vengeance.

Watching the younger cast members grow up before our eyes over the last decade, from pre-pubescent striplings into young adults, has been one of the distinct pleasures of the Harry Potter series. They’ve matured as actors too, none more so thanthe boy wizard himself,  Daniel Radcliffe. His acting in past instalments has been the target for sneers and cheap shots from some critics, but he proves himself more than equal here to the task of conveying the last stages of Harry’s remarkable emotional journey. And when the final showdown takes place, he holds his own in the acting face-off with Ralph Fiennes, just as courageous, good-hearted Harry proves to be a match for the evil Voldemort.

On general release from 15th July.

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My! How they’ve grown! We chart the growth of Harry, Ron & Hermione over the course of the eight Harry Potter films.

Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione through the years

Harry Potter – Ten years of amazing spectacles

Ron – The Wonderful World of Weasley

Hermione Granger – Every Little Thing She Does is Magic