Was 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' split into two movies so that the franchise could make more money? Well, yes. But maybe not just for that reason. As it turns out, 'Deathly Hallows: Part 1' is a quietly thrilling and artful chapter in the eight-part series. It doesn't stand on its own, exactly, any more than the first half of a TV two-parter would, but it isn't merely set-up, either. If you think of 'Half-Blood Prince' and the two 'Deathly Hallows' entries as a trilogy that concludes the Potter saga, 'Part 1' is a terrific middle.

You will recall the somber way we left things at the end of 'Half-Blood Prince.' Things aren't any cheerier now. The director, David Yates -- who will have made half of the eight films by the time it's over -- instantly revives the tension by starting on a tight close-up of Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour, who is assuring his constituents that everything is fine, just fine. We know it isn't true. And look at Scrimgeour's eyes. Does he even believe it?

There's a palpable sense of gloom as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione (Emma Watson) leave their homes, not bound for Hogwarts, but headed to war against Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Assisted by the members of the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and Hermione converge on the Weasley home, where there is to be a wedding between Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour. Everyone is aware that this may be the last festive moment for a long time.