Harry Potter Studio Trip – 3 months ago

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I wrote this for Studio magazine and since I didn’t get paid for it, here it is.

Just outside Watford, lurking on the outskirts of the suburbs, is Leavesden studios, home of the new Harry Potter Studio Tour. Any Potter fan would be thrilled at the chance to roam around the magical sets of the wizarding franchise, so I went and scoped out the attraction to make sure it meets the high expectations of the films’ ferocious fans.

The first glimpse of magic happens at Watford Junction station where specially decorated buses await eager fans to take the 15 minute drive to Leavesden. Although it’s surely easier to drive, taking the train is a little like actually going to Hogwarts and kids will be thrilled to get on the Potter themed buses so don’t miss out.

Inside the studio is the modestly decorated foyer with stills from the films lining the walls along with the occasional prop and a Starbucks, because they are literally everywhere. Once you’ve had time to grab a latte, the tour begins with a video about the beginnings and successes of Potter with words from David Heyman, J.K. Rowling and the like. It could use some work or perhaps scrapping altogether as it isn’t telling fans anything they don’t already know but it’s most likely there just to keep tour group timings running smoothly. The next video is much more interesting; Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe talk a little about filming at Leavesden and sing the praises of the film crew.

There a few surprises at the tour and so as not to spoil the magic, I won’t reveal how you get to the next section of the tour, the Great Hall, but needless to say, it’s good.

The size of the Great Hall might come as a surprise to many as it seems to cavernous in the films but actually feels like rather a snug fit for even a small sized tour group. How the room was shot for the film to make it seem so much larger is explained and this kind of trick photography is just one of the fascinating elements showcased on the tour, revealing that there’s an unexpected aspect to the simplest of features.
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But it’s not just the sets that are on display; standing proudly at the end of the Hall is Dumbledore’s costume and many others dotted throughout the tour. The costumes are a nice touch and to see Snape’s black figure loitering on the Potions room set and another one of Dumbledores robes adorning a model in his office really brings the set pieces together.

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Of course no one would come all that way to see some costumes, not when just around the corner you can actually ride a broom! Every adult will revert back to being an excited 5-year-old when they get the chance to put on a Hogwarts robe, jump on a broom and, through the magic of green screen, fly over London. Although purchasing the finished picture will snap you right back in adulthood as they aren’t cheap, it’s definitely worth having a go at anyway.

At the halfway point, you might feel the need to have a nice sit down and a break from all the excitement. No chance. By all means, sit down and have a rest but who wouldn’t be excited to see the Knight Bus in the break area?! Or the actual giant chess pieces from The Philosophers Stone? Word has it that down the line, visitors will also be able to sit inside the temperamental Weasley Ford Anglia and have their picture taken. Of course this might be too much for some people, everyone needs a chance to catch their breath so you could always just sit down with a nice glass of Butterbeer. Oh yes, the delicious Hogsmede treat is available, for a fairly reasonable price and will satisfy any fans curiosity over the magical beverage.

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Next up is the special effects department which showcases everything from a rubber mould of John Cleese’s head to an enormous model of the dreaded spider, Aragog. This exhibit is really fascinating as there’s no rhyme or reason to the order of props and models, its more of a scavenger hunt, but be warned some of the exhibit pieces can move…

Ever wanted to take a walk down Diagon Alley? Now you can, sort of. A large section of the street is here and waiting for you to take a look through the windows of Ollivanders and Flourish and Blotts but unfortunately these are just the shop fronts, no sets are available to have a look around, but still, having your picture taken outside Gringotts is a pretty great consolation prize.

The following section takes a look at the breathtaking work of the art department showcasing their original designs for everything from the Shrieking shack to Hogwarts itself. Speaking of which, the last part of the tour ends with a 360 look at the castle itself. Giving away any details of the castle here would hardly do it justice, needless to say it’s something that any Potter fan should see for themselves.

Even if you aren’t the worlds biggest fan of Harry Potter, the tour is a tribute to the best British craftsmanship has to offer. Sets, costumes, props, special effects and every other little bit of magic on the tour is too special to miss out on.

Some more pictures from the day:

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