Move over Harry Potter. JK Rowling has conjured up another wizard of a hero in Newt Scamander. Played with bags of beguiling, diffident charm by Eddie Redmayne, Newt is the wizarding world's David Attenborough – and the purported author of the spoof Hogwart’s textbook Rowling wrote in aid of Comic Relief in 2001, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Newt's first screen adventure takes place in 1926 New York, where his menagerie of magical creatures breaks loose from his suitcase, just as an extremely dangerous dark magical force is making its presence felt in the city. Newt is soon in the thick of things, trying to recapture his escaped beasts while striving to avert even greater disaster with help from Dan Fogler's tubby factory worker Jacob, a No-Maj (as Muggles are known in America); and from demoted Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her bubbly mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol).
Director David Yates, maker of the last four Harry Potter films, handles all this tremendously well, pulling off moments of high-spirited comedy and episodes of danger and derring-do with dash and verve. Meanwhile, the film’s evocation of a Jazz Age magical metropolis living cheek by jowl with Prohibition-era New York is thoroughly enchanting. Coleen Atwood's Oscar-winning costumes only add to the wonder.
But it is Rowling who deserves the most kudos. Her imagination as capacious as Newt's suitcase, she displays total assurance in expanding the Harry Potter universe into a different time period and continent. The setting may be new for Rowling, but the message of tolerance underpinning the narrative is as timely as ever. Fantastic Beasts is Rowling's first screenplay and marks the first in a proposed five-film series. If they are as thoroughly captivating as this giddily enjoyable fantasy adventure then we are in for a treat.
Certificate 12. Runtime 133 mins. Director David Yates
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.
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