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Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – A Stylized Adaptation

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third installment in the series. This was the first adaptation to stray from the books, choosing to move plot points around and leave other scenes out entirely. Certain scenes are also added to give the film its own flair. Despite these changes, Prisoner of Azkaban is widely considered to be one of the best in the series.

RELATED POST – Film Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – A Suspenseful Sequel

Much like the book it was based on, Prisoner of Azkaban is unique in that there is no involvement from Voldemort in the entire plot. However, there are several notable changes to this installment, ushered in by new director Alfonzo Cuaron. Viewers will notice that the world of Harry Potter has undergone a redesign that, while remaining true to earlier films, created a stylised look that gives the films their own sense of self, separate from the books.

In the third film, they have expanded the unusual architecture to include a lot more of Hogwarts castle. We also see more of The Leaky Cauldron along with the inclusion of the wizard village of Hogsmeade. These sets together really create an excellent sense of the Harry Potter world. Another notable inclusion is the stylistic choice of showing the passing of seasons by referring back to the Whomping Willow, which is an important part of the third act.

Harry Potter Prisoner of Azkaban mauraders map
Harry receives the Marauder’s Map

The third film also makes use of creative lighting choices and unusual camera angles to give the film that extra magical feel which works really well. Incidentally, this was also the first installment in the series to make use of an unusual credits sequence. These ones are designed to resemble the Marauder’s Map. This is an important magical item that Harry receives in Prisoner of Azkaban.

The Cast

The acting from the main younger cast is much better than in previous outings (especially in terms of comedic timing). As with Chamber of Secrets, there are a few new faces in the cast. The most notable of these is obviously that the series acquired a new Dumbledore. After Richard Harris’ tragic passing, Michael Gambon took up the post of Hogwarts’ mysterious headmaster. Where Richard Harris chose to play him as a whimsical and wise figure, Gambon imbues the character with a more quirky, energetic personality. Also recast was the character of The Fat Lady, the portrait that stands guard over Gryffindor Dormitories. Shakespearian actress, Elizabeth Spriggs is replaced with well-loved comedian Dawn French, possibly as the film chose to take her character in a more comedic direction.

Harry Potter Prisoner of Azkaban Sirius black
Sirius and Harry help Ron out of the Shrieking Shack

Also new to the cast are Gary Oldman and David Thewlis playing fan favorites Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, respectively. Both are superb as the eccentric, lovable former friends of Harry’s father, James.

Timothy Spall joins the cast as the elusive and repugnant Peter Pettigrew and does an excellent, sniveling, job of it. Emma Thompson takes a delightfully weird turn as the semi-fraudulent Divination Professor, Sybill Trelawney.

Though his role was mostly relegated to deleted scenes and a CD-ROM game, Sir Cadogan was actually adapted from the books and can be seen in the background for much of the film. He is, of course, as enjoyably ridiculous as his book counterpart. His absence may annoy fans of the book, however. Also tremendously irritating is the choice to move Harry’s receiving of the Firebolt broomstick until the end, which was an important plot point in the book.


There is no overt romance in the film. However, the romantic groundwork continues to hint toward future relationships, especially between Ron and Hermione.

Harry Potter Prisoner of Azkaban harry ron hermione
Harry, Ron and Hermione witness Buckbeak’s execution

Final Thoughts

The time travel plot from the book is handled and adapted extremely well and is incredibly enjoyable to watch. Overall, the film still holds onto the warm tone of previous films while introducing a darker sense of this universe as a portent of what’s to come. This film strikes a good balance I think. In all, Prisoner of Azkaban is a well-paced, well-written adaptation which perhaps takes a few liberties with the plot but otherwise should please any Potter fan worth their salt. Prisoner of Azkaban is definitely one of the best and most enjoyable entries in the Harry Potter series and should not be missed.

Content Note: PG

Where to Watch: You can stream on HBO Go, HBO on Amazon Channels. You can also rent and/or buy on Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Youtube, Vudu and DVD.

Photo credit: Warner Brothers


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By on January 24th, 2018

About Elinor Cackett

Elinor is a writer and semi-recent graduate of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. She has been writing ever since she could hold a pen but her love affair with fiction started when the entirety of David Eddings’ 'The Belgariad' was read to her at age four. She currently has a couple of books and half a dozen short stories on the go. She spends her free time writing, analysing media and knitting very colourful scarves.

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