The year I did a summer exchange at the University of Oxford, there were quite a few suitcases weighed down on the way over by the final installment in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Plowing through the Deathly Hallows on a bench outside Christ Church College – which houses the inspiration for the Great Hall in the movies – made the reading of the last book all the more emotive. A few years later, I was working a short walk from Trafalgar Square while a shrieking and exuberant crowd celebrated the premiere of the final Harry Potter film. I think that’s when it hit me, that as much as the series is a global phenomenon, it will at its heart always be a very British treasure. What a gift to give the world, everything from J.K. Rowling’s initial literary creation to the behemoth film ventures.
And, if that’s all not enough (which it isn’t, to any Harry fan worth their every flavored beans), there is THE WARNER BROS STUDIO in…Leavesden. Fear not, it is more accessible to those in London than it would initially appear (though judging by how fast tickets for this weekend filled up, I don’t think Warner Bros should be too worried about visitors being daunted).
Whereas the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando is more of a theme park (at least, I gather it is – my entire family made the trip without me, so I wouldn’t know on a firsthand basis!! Ahem ahem), the Warner Bros Studio is where a majority of the scenes in the movies were filmed. A suggestion – if you’re like my friends and I and enjoy pointing and yelling at recognizable sets/items/costumes (AND WHO DOESN’T), watch some (or all) of the movies first to make the whole tour even more incredible.
It really is a magical experience (for groups in their 20s to parents with kids dressed up as witches and wizards alike). The sheer size of the endeavor that was the creating of the films is awe-inspiring. The tour opens with a recorded spiel by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, highlighting the work of countless actors, producers, directors, make up artists, costume designer, special effects teams, graphics wizards, etc etc…but the exhibits truly speak for themselves.
The tour opens in Hogwarts’ Great Hall, where everything looks straight out of the movies except for the ceiling, which was digitally enchanted with rain, sunshine and snow. You then leave the dining hall for a feast of another kind – sets, props, costumes, and trinkets are everywhere, and you understand why they recommend 3 hours for the visit.
Don’t want to spoil the magic with too many photos, but it’s all there: Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, the House of Black family tapestry, Dolores Umbridge’s terrible pink lair…not to mention Horcruxes, animal familiars and the wand of practically every character. There’s a brief outdoor bit with the flying Ford Anglia, a model of the bridge to Hogwarts and the Knight Bus (THIS IS WHERE YOU GET THE BUTTERBEER!!! Looking up homemade recipes immediately).
There’s also a section where you can get your picture taken on a flying broomstick, complete with a green screen sky background and a wind machine, but the only photos allowed are the professional ones you’d have to pay for. We opted to skip it, but it would definitely make a fabulous adornment for the fridge for anyone interested!
There are rumors that there may be plans in the works for theme-park style additions, with rides and such. It’s totally worth the visit now though; you really won’t be able to leave without marvelling anew at the success and gloriousness of the entire franchise. More than that, you’ll have an even greater appreciation of the love and detail that went into bringing Harry and Co to the big screen…and want to read and/or watch all the books and movies again and again.
A note on travel:
Book your tickets (£30) early! A month or two in advance to be safe – I checked a couple of weeks before our slot and the entire weekend was sold out. There is a cloakroom but I was actually told they weren’t accepting coats because ‘it is VERY cold outside’ (it was 11 degrees) and there is a brief stop outdoors.
To get there, you take a train from Euston Station to Watford Junction (we booked as a group of 3 and got return tickets for £6.75. Then I lost my return ticket and had to pay an additional £10. DON’T DO THAT!) Shuttle buses (£2 return) go from Watford Junction to the studio and back.