Hardcore Harry Potter fans have hailed it as a must-see, and over the holiday I was lucky enough to visit Warner Bros Studio at Leavesden, where you can walk the sets where Daniel Radcliffe spent ten years playing the part of boy-wizard.
The Tour can take as little as three hours to plow through, but for more dedicated fans you could spend all day exploring the sound stages from head to toe. As the doors swing open to reveal the Great Hall, where the teenage hero was sorted into Gryffindor by a talking hat, ate his breakfast and once dribbled pumpkin juice down his shirt, it would take a certain sort of cynic not to be impressed. The detail is breathtaking and at this time of year, decked out for a Hogwarts Christmas.
The first stage of the tour takes you around a number of iconic sets- Hagrid’s Hut, The Gryffindor Common Room, Mrs Weasley’s kitchen and The Ministry of Magic to name a few- that were all filmed in, surrounded by familiar props and costumes, all of which appeared in the series. Particularly impressive is Dumbledore’s Office, featuring the Sorting Hat and a variety of mystical knick knacks and spell books- many of which are filled with pages from the Phone Book.
Although some of the sets are interactive- you're able to remotely control Mrs Weasley's charmed knitting needles and chop carrots as if by magic- however, many of them are not physically accessible. You're not able to perch on Dumbledore's chair or hop into the cozy armchairs in the Gryffindor Common Room in order to keep the sets presentable for future visitors.
The back lot features the suburban haven of Privet Drive as well as the instantly recognisable Knight Bus, Hagrid’s motorbike and a (grounded) Ford Anglia. There is also the opportunity to walk through the Hogwarts Bridge which suffered an explosive on-screen demise at the hands of Matthew Lewis’ character, Neville Longbottom. There’s a picnic area and a chance to try a sickly sweet Butterbeer- the only place it’s available in the UK.
The second stage features many of the creatures that Harry counted amongst his friends- and enemies- as well as a plethora of information as to how they were created. After a jaunt through a full length Diagon Alley, where any witch or wizard would give their right arm to go shopping for school supplies, you reach the piece de resistance. Taking 40 days to reassemble, a full scale model of Hogwarts Castle which was used for all the long sweeping shots in the first six films.
The display turns from night to day within minutes, highlighting the tiny fibre optic lights inserted all over the model. Measuring nearly 50ft in diameter, it is without a doubt the highlight of the tour for any Potterhead, to the point where I decided I’d quite like to be a Borrower if I could live in it.
As you leave the tour, you are predictably hustled through the Gift Shop where a whole host of expensive and coveted products lay. Unfortunately our visit was interrupted by an evacuation announcement, caused by steam from the kitchen setting off a fire alarm. We were hustled out by a particularly upbeat employee who dryly announced that there was nothing to worry about, “just a Troll in the dungeon.”
The tour isn’t cheap. For a family of 4 tickets alone cost £85 and audio guides cost another £9.95 each- which whilst interesting, certainly aren’t necessary. And for casual fans, getting more than half a day out of the tour might be tricky. Any extras- gifts, official photos and Butterbeers- aren’t exactly cheap either. But for any diligent fan of the films, the tour is fascinating and thrilling- a definite must see.
If you'd like to book tickets, they can be found on the Studio Tour website.
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