FILM OF THE WEEK: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (12A) ****

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, Katherine Waterston as Propentina, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski and Alison Sudol as Queenie. PA Photo/Warner Bros.
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, Katherine Waterston as Propentina, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski and Alison Sudol as Queenie. PA Photo/Warner Bros.
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The pixie dust may have settled on Harry Potter’s battle with Lord Voldemort, but author JK Rowling isn’t ready to cast a vanishing spell on her world of wizards just yet.

Inspired by a faux textbook written in 2001 to benefit Comic Relief, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a spin-off set decades before the escapades of the boy wizard.

It’s also the first film penned for the screen by Rowling and is a surprisingly bleak affair about tolerance, prejudice and integration.

As origin stories go, Fantastic Beasts... is a crowd-pleasing doozy.

Zealots called the Second Salemers, led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) and her adopted son Credence (Ezra Miller), preach hell and damnation in 1926 New York, following a reign of terror perpetrated by dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

Newt Scamander (Redmayne) arrives in the Big Apple at the height of this paranoia, carrying a suitcase with hidden pocket-dimensions full of endangered critters.

A No-Maj called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) accidentally picks up Newt’s luggage and releases otherworldly species in breach of the Statute of Secrecy.

Beasties go on the rampage and Newt attempts to recapture them aided by Jacob, a former Auror called Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol).

Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), director of Magical Security, is convinced that Newt’s illegally imported creatures are responsible for a brutal attack.

He declares war on the fugitives in a city where dark forces are gathering.

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them reunites director Yates, who helmed the last four Harry Potter films, with other Hogwarts alumni, including editor Mark Day, production designer Stuart Craig and visual effects supervisors Tim Burke and Christian Manz.

Redmayne is a charmingly ill-at-ease hero, whose unerring dedication to creatures in his care draws fond parallels with Hagrid.

Waterston is a spunky, if underserved, foil, while Fogler and Sudol – channelling the sex bomb naivete of Marilyn Monroe – illuminate their swoonsome romantic comedy subplot.

The beasts themselves, are a menagerie of the weird and wondrous.