Laying my cards out on the table, I have to admit that I am neither friend nor foe of the Harry Potter films. When taken on face value they are undoubtedly HP but, for one pedant such as I (and slight addict to the magical world of Rowling) they just aren’t as close to the blueprint of the text as I would like – a feat, I do accept, would be impossible to achieve!
And yet all that aside, there is one place I have been DYING to go, a little place off the M25 that houses within it a homage to the wonderful world of non-Muggles. At the end of the aptly named Studios Tour Drive lies Harry Potter world!
The small town of Leavesden was the home to the film franchise of Harry Potter – British films, made on British soil, chocked full of the best of British actors. Once the cameras stopped rolling back in 2010 the spectacular sets, costumes and props were suddenly redundant. But for those who love HP, the films, the books, have interest in film production and/or history these components are not lost – all the magical elements that made the wonderful world of HP come to life on screen are now on display for public delight and delectation in the Warner Bros Studio Tours. And last month, I got to go!
Now this post is going to be mainly pictographic in nature so if you want to see the Tours first-hand, don’t go down any further! All I will say is that if you are in any way considering making the trip yourself is go! Go, get excited, indulge in everything Hogwartian – it is totally worth it. The level of detail that went into the films will blow you away, I promise! The film studios have been converted into a fantastic walk-through experience – total immersion into the world of Harry Potter. It is a complete Aladdin’s cave of film memorabilia and studio secrets and you do have to stop yourself running around like a manically overexcited headless chicken (yes, it’s that amazing!)
Now onto the pictures fellow Potter Pals…
I loved being able to see all the AMAZING costumes on display. They were often placed in context, alongside fellow characters so you could really get a sense of the fashion designers vision for the teachers, Deatheaters, Weasley’s etc. It was astounding the volume of exact costumes that had to be made as well as the concept, research and design that went into every last stitch. I think my favourite will always be Ron’s dress robes for the Yule Ball, I can just imagine Rupert Grint’s face when he saw it in the flesh!Intricate sets are laid out to match how they appeared in the films or, at the very least grouped together in related scenes. You begin by walking through the Hogwarts Great Hall and slowly move into a huge studio warehouse were you can walk from the Leaky Cauldron to The Ministry of Magic, from the Potions classroom at Hogwarts to Hagrid’s Hut. They will take your breath away and there are often little videos from the Art Directors giving away studio secrets or design intricacies that you would have missed on screen:
The level of detail in the film sets are utterly astounding. Props are dotted everywhere – on sets and in display cases – and I would be surprised if I managed to take everything in on my first visit. In the case of special props there are information cards detailing the inspiration and stories behind them, for example the Goblet of Fire was originally designed to be much smaller and made of metal but, after careful consideration, the designers went for a much more organic look and hand-carved the entire thing from a single block of wood! The devil, and beauty, is definitely in the detail:
There are exhibits inside the studio and outside in the courtyard, each just as amazing as the last. There’s Hagrid’s motorbike, the trusty flying Ford Anglia, the sickeningly sweet pink of Delores Umbridge’s outfits and MoM office, the entire street of Diagon Alley and just so many more! Outside in the courtyard you get to see Privet Drive, the Hogwarts bridge, Tom Riddle’s grave and the entire live chess set from Philosopher’s Stone. You also get the chance to sample a certain wizarding beverage – Butterbeer! Now almost everyone I know who has gone on this tour has a different reaction to this attempted replica of a literary drink and for me it was very like drinking fizzy, liquid toffee ice cream – not altogether unpleasant but weird, mainly because I was expecting it to be served at room temperature like beer should be!The displays from the art department and animatronics teams were probably my favourite parts of the tour as they demonstrated the level of detail, commitment and effort that went into every visual aspect of the films and it is absolutely astounding! All the individual Gringotts goblin masks and the original concept for Lord Voldemort were on display, there were moving animatronics (including Buckbeak the Hippogriff who bowed and a screaming Mandrake plant), intricate 3D paper designs and sketches for sets as well as full canvas prints of scene concepts were dotted everywhere – it was just incredible how many different people and skill sets were involved with the filming, producing ideas and designs that sometimes weren’t even used.
But, without a doubt, the best was saved til last. The final stop of the tour (pre-gift shop obviously!) is utterly breathtaking – in fact my cousin, Auntie and I all gasped when we walked in and took in what was on display. The jewel in the crown of the wizards (sorry, had to at least once!) in the HP Art Department is a hand sculptured scale model of the Hogwarts castle and grounds. Used for aerial photography and the base for CGI scenes, this beauty is HUGE! You can walk all the way around it, take it in from every angle, with the lights alternating between day and night every 4 minutes. We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of the sculpture displayed in the snow and it is just beautiful.
Gift-shop aside, the whole experience was so celebratory of the films and respectful to the films and HP fans that it superbly sidestepped the gimmicky. Every member of staff we met were as enthused as we were and I would LOVE to go again and see all the things I know I wouldn’t have spotted first time round. If you’re a Pal of Potter, it is so absolutely worth it – go and indulge your inner wizard!