It was a large coach, rather than a train at platform 9 ¾, that whisked the muggles and witches of Year 8 alike away to the Harry Potter Studios at Leavesden on the 24 March. Sorted by a bona-fide sorting hat into one of the four iconic houses, we arrived at the studios ready for a day of magic and adventure – and had a day with as many twists and turns as a quidditch match.
As well as hosting the Harry Potter experience, Leavesden is home to a fully-functioning collection of film sets; we learnt that it had recently played home to a variety of films including a forthcoming film based on Arthurian myth, as well as the sequel to Kingsman. We tried not to swoon over news that the likes of Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Jason Momoa were likely to be on site at the same time as us. A glance beyond the converted aircraft hangar that is now a temple of all-things-Potter revealed the crenulations of a mediaeval city as well as the skyline set for Fantastic Beasts – which, with a few tweaks, is to become the set for a forthcoming superhero film.
While our day did not include any tete-a-tetes with Hollywood’s mightiest (though we did permit ourselves a swoon from time to time), it was split into two parts: the tour itself, and a workshop with a member of the studio team. Workshops took place in a restricted area of the studios and focussed on how scripts go from paper to screen, and how costume is carefully tailored to hint at character. In both workshops, we were privileged to handle props and materials that had been used in the Harry Potter franchise (we had to wear gloves so that we didn’t damage them). An excellent example of the reasoning for this was when we were shown the cat brooch belonging to Delores Umbridge; purchased for £2 in a charity shop it was now insured, we were told, for over £1000. The girls wowed the studio team with their creativity and inventiveness – and were rewarded with a limited edition letter each, produced by the studio, of the kind that bombards Harry’s house in one of the films.
The Studio Tour itself – hosted by a horde of enthusiastic Potterites – was an astonishing opportunity to experience first-hand just some of the hundreds of thousands of props, sets and costumes that were all hand-crafted for the Harry Potter films. Every item on display in the tours is genuine, from the eye-popping bigature of Hogwarts itself to the 17,000 hand-made wand boxes from Olivanders’. You could take your place in the Great Hall, distinguished by its genuine Yorkshire flagstones, check the propriety of your uniform in the Mirror of Esired, take a snoop on Snape in his Potions lesson, witness the cruelty of Voldemort’s table, board the Hogwart’s Express, stroll down Diagon Alley or pop into Privet Drive – as well as take your turn to be green-screened into the Hogwart’s Express or drink Butterbeer. In a stroke of wonderful luck, the not-yet-opened Forbidden Forest attraction was opened for just an hour of our visit; not the place for the arachnophobe in your life.
The day was an amazing insight into the hard-work and scale that goes into recreating on screen what an author can create at the stroke of a pen, and certainly sated our Potter palates!
Mrs Anna Thayer, English Department
A selection of photos from this trip can be viewed in Galleries.