Tuesday 21 January 2014

Harry Potter Studio Tour

Last weekend I experienced both magic and wizardry on an afternoon out. Intrigued? Well, I spent my Saturday at Warner Bros Studios with Harry Potter and friends.

Our journey started at Euston Station, getting on a train (from a very boring platform 9, I’m afraid) to Watford Junction. Once there, we excitedly jumped onto a kind of Knight Bus, all the way to the studio. We were lucky enough to have a sunny day, so seeing the Warner Bros sign gleaming in the distance was very special indeed. Although I wouldn't say I was the greatest of Potter fans, I have seen all the films and was fascinated to find out what went on behind the scenes.

Before we started our tour, we enjoyed a Starbucks in the reception, gazing up at the Ford Anglia that hung from the ceiling. The queue in was surprisingly short, but even so, we were happily distracted by the "cupboard under the stairs" which was built into the wall next to it. On the shelf inside was also a pair of Harry's spectacles (apparently after the series was filmed, Daniel Radcliffe asked to keep a pair as a memento).  

Taken into the first room, where slideshows of international movie posters line the walls, you are given a quick talk about how the tour is set up, then you're shown a short clip to wet your whistle about the birth of the Harry Potter films. It's also explained that the tour is housed in two new soundstages, J and K - a nice little touch that I'm sure the author appreciates.

The next room houses a cinema where another movie is played, hosted by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. They explained what it was like to spend 10 years working at Leavesden, growing up with their on-set family. We saw clips from all of the films, behind and in front of the camera (they were so cute in the early days, what happened?). For me, probably the most thrilling moment of the day came at the end of the film when the three actors disappear through the doors of the Great Hall and then, as the cinema screen rises, there the doors are! You emerge from your seat, have to shout a big "YEEEEAAH!" to the guide's question of "I can't hear you, are you excited?", then you're through.

The Great Hall is probably the most used of the Harry Potter sets. Unfortunately, as you probably guessed, the floating candle ceiling is all CGI, but everything else was either genuine or painstakingly made to look so. The tour has set the room up with fully laid tables and various costumes lining the walls (pupils at the sides, professors at the end). I particularly liked seeing Daniel Radcliffe's first Gryffindor gown, and Michael Gambon's gown and wig, leaning on the golden lectern.

You are then left to wander as you please through the remaining tour, which they say takes up to three hours, but for us was more like two. The first part houses some of the most famous scenery, props and costumes. Here are some of the highlights…

Every single wand is there (all of which are available to purchase in the gift shop for £25), as well as the horcruxes. You can stand in Dumbledore's office (look out for the sorting hat) and peak into the Gryffindor common room and dorm room. Apparently they kept the same beds throughout the film series, despite their feet sticking far out from the bottom by the end! There's the potion room with self-stirring cauldrons, and Hagrid's house. Behind the brooms you also see a film explaining how they filmed the flying scenes. A bit of a spoiler, but still fascinating.

The next section of the tour is outside, where you find yourself standing on Privet Drive, next to a Knight bus, with a glass of cold Butter Beer if you fancy it. Imagine the sweetest cream soda with a marshmallowy head on top (just in case it wasn't sickly enough!). Then, you're back indoors again for the make-up and special effects department. Warwick Davis, a.k.a. Filius Flitwick is on-screen ready to explain all, and very cleverly, he talks in time with the physical objects moving around you. One unbelievable prop was Hagrid's head. Of course we all know him as Robbie Coltrane, but in fact, when you're watching him in a full body shot, it is actually Martin Bayfield (6ft10), on stilts (making him 11ft 6in), wearing an animatronic head that looks and moves just like Coltrane himself. Slightly spooky. In this section, you also get to see Dobby. My heart still melts just thinking about it.

Through another archway and you're standing on Diagon Alley, looking through the windows of Olivanders Wand Shop and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. Then there's a room full of stunning character drawings and paper models of the various sets.

But then comes the jaw-dropper. For the filming of the Hogwarts scenes, a 1:24 scale model was used, and on the tour you're lucky enough to see it. I was particularly excited because visiting in January meant the model was still covered in snow for the Christmas season. What a magical experience.

I absolutely loved the last room of the tour. On the walls on shelf upon shelf is a wand box for every person involved in the making of the films (pictured above). Each individually named and hand painted with the same care and attention given to every prop in the Harry Potter archive.

We had such a wonderful day at Warner Bros studios, and I'd recommend it for everyone of any age, whether you're a big or little Potter fan. It costs £30 for an adult tickets, and it's worth booking in well in advance if you're after a particular slot.

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