Harry Potter Year 3 revisited: ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’

Posted Filed under

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban hit cinema screens in 2004, and brought with it a deeper understanding of the magical world created by JK Rowling, as long-buried secrets slowly emerge.

The premise of the third instalment in the Potter series is this: escaped mass-murderer Sirius Black has somehow broken out of the wizarding prison of Azkaban. For reasons yet unknown, he is coming after Harry.

Buy the complete Harry Potter 1-8 box set on Amazon here.

After spending his first year with the Dark Lord secretly lurking on the back of his Defence teacher’s head and his second year trying to stop the ghost of Voldemort’s younger self from attacking all the school’s Muggleborns, you might think that Prisoner of Azkaban – the only book of the series in which Voldemort himself does not directly feature – might give Harry a break, but, well. You’d be wrong.


The basics

Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts gets off to a slightly less than joyous start with the news that an escaped murder has his sights set on Harry. Hogwarts is under lockdown, Dementors guard the school, and sightings of the notorious Sirius Black are plastered across the Daily Prophet.

It’s not all bad – Harry has a new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher, a empathetic and intelligent man named Remus Lupin; a vast improvement on the last two teachers to take that role. Lupin helps Harry to deal with the Dementors he dreads, and under his guidance Harry’s skills flourish.

But the threat of Black hangs over them at all times. Harry has no idea why Black would want to come after him, but as they say, ignorance is bliss. When he finds out what appears to be the truth, he may well wish that he had never uncovered it at all: according to all, Sirius Black was the traitor who betrayed James and Lily Potter to Voldemort. He killed Peter Pettigrew, the innocent friend of both James and Black, for standing in his way, and then he killed the crowd of Muggles who witnessed his vile attack on Peter. Black has been in Azkaban ever since – until now.

When the Weasley twins gift Harry with ‘The Marauders’ Map’, a magical item which shows the exact position of everyone within the school grounds, Harry spots something that can’t possibly be true. Peter Pettigrew, the innocent victim of Sirius Black, wandering round Hogwarts. It cannot possibly be true; and yet the map never lies. So if Pettigrew lives, what is the truth about Sirius Black – and what really happened on the night that James and Lily died?


Best moments

Remus Lupin’s ‘Riddikulus’ Defence lesson in which he teaches the students how to repel boggarts captures the fun of the Potter series as we see magic used in weird and wonderful ways to turn the spooky into the funny. Neville Longbottom gets a moment to shine when he tackles his Snape-shaped boggart and forces him to dress up in Neville’s grandmother’s clothes.

The Marauders’ Map has become a classic symbol of the Potter franchise and is used throughout the series from the Prisoner of Azkaban onwards to aid Harry in his various adventures. The fact that it was created by Harry’s father and his best friends adds a sentimental quality to it, so the scene in which the Weasley twins decide to give it to Harry is a great one; plus, anything featuring Fred and George is always a joy. Harry’s first trip to Hogsmeade, made possible by the map, is lovely; it’s always good to get to see more of the wizarding world outside Hogwarts.

The Shrieking Shack scene in which the truths of James and Lily’s deaths are revealed is stuffed full of brilliant moments both dramatic and sad. For me, the best moment of all is when Remus Lupin holds his hand out to Sirius Black and helps him up off the floor, then embraces him; two of the Marauders, united again.

Another very poignant scene shows Sirius and Harry gazing up at Hogwarts, beautiful against the night-sky. Sirius mentions that James and Lily made him Harry’s godfather, and we can see on Harry’s face just how much the offer of being a family with someone so close to his father means to him.


Top quotes

“Messrs. Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, offer their compliments to Professor Snape… and request that he keep his abnormally large nose out of other people’s business.” Even when two members are allegedly dead, one is on the run, and one is a teacher, the Marauders still manage to poke fun at Snape.

“Know this; the ones that love us never really leave us.” One of my all time favourite Harry Potter quotes, beautifully delivered by Gary Oldman’s Sirius.

“Turn to page three hundred and ninety four.” A throwaway line – but famously delivered by the late great Alan Rickman.

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the first film to feature Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” Iconic.


Did you know?

When new Potter director Alfonso Cuarón came on board, he asked the three young leads to write an essay about their characters in order to familiarise himself with the actors’ visions. Daniel Radcliffe wrote a half-hearted one page; Rupert Grint never turned his in at all. Emma Watson, on the other hand, completed 16 pages. Have you ever heard of three actors more like their characters?

Ian McKellen was apparently offered the role of Dumbledore after Richard Harris passed away, but turned it down due to the pressure of taking another iconic role when he was already appearing as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings.

In the first two films, the Hogwarts students wear their robes whenever they are in scenes set in the school. However Cuarón believed that allowing them to wear everyday clothes when not in classes let the characters’ personalities shine through.

JK Rowling based the Dementors and the way they feed off a person’s happiness on her own battle with depression.

Two cats were used to portray Crookshanks; Persian reds named Crackerjack and Pumpkin. The cats’ shed fur was rolled into balls and clipped onto the cats to maintain Crookshanks’ shaggy look.

According to legend, Rome was founded by twins brought up by a she-wolf: Romulus and Remus. ‘Lupin’, meanwhile, shares its root with ‘Lupus’ – Latin for wolf.

JK Rowling has said that moments in the film gave her goosebumps when they inadvertently referred to events which would be uncovered in later books which had yet to be released.


The report: A

This film explores more of Rowling’s world than its predecessors – the past of Harry’s parents is a goldmine for drama, intrigue and emotion, and the fact that director Cuarón tried new and initiative ways to get across the feel of each character and the world in which they inhabit lends the film a fresh sense.

It’s beautifully shot and as with The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, it doesn’t shy away from the spookier elements; the threat of an escaped murderer and the Dementors lurking around add a sinister vibe, whilst the scenes with Remus in his werewolf form have always been among the scariest in the film series for me.

However, there is one thing which I don’t think the film quite managed to hit the right note on. For me personally, one of the main tragedies of the entire Harry Potter story is that of the Marauders’ fate – that they were so close to each other, so full of spirit, and the First Wizarding War destroyed them so completely. A huge factor in this tragedy is how young they all were.

James and Lily died aged only 21 – in the rare glimpses we see of them throughout the film franchise, in flashbacks and photographs, they are much older. Geraldine Somerville as Lily is the youngest of the cast playing the Marauder’s era characters; she was 36 at the time that this film came out. Whilst that is by no means old, there’s definitely a difference between a 36 year old and a 21 year old. Lily and James were essentially still kids themselves when they were killed. Personally, I think portraying them as older throughout the films – as people who have at least managed to live a portion of their adult lives – lessens the impact of their tragedy.

Prisoner of Azkaban is, naturally, the film where this is probably the most apparent, as it is the film in which we meet James’ best friends.

Gary Oldman, Davis Thewlis and Timothy Spall are all fantastic in their roles, there’s no denying that, and there is also the matter of Alan Rickman’s Snape, who was at school with them, so an obvious age gap there would have possibly looked strange. But I do think the film missed out on a big emotional impact when it chose to sweep the Marauders’ youth aside and portray them as older than they were.


Buy the complete Harry Potter 1-8 box set on Amazon here.

What’s your favourite moment in the movie? Let us know below…

Read more from Amy Archer-Williams on her blog here.