The Harry Potter Studio Tour, which opens on 31 March, promises to lift the veil on the real magic of movie-making, and we made our way down there this week to take the very first peek inside.
'The Making of Harry Potter Tour' offers a permanent home to the films' extraordinary sets, their intricate props and a host of lovingly-crafted costumes. Even before you've entered the exhibition proper you'll glimpse Harry's cupboard under the stairs and the Weasley's famous blue Ford Anglia. And after a short video introduction from Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, the curtains will lift and you'll be able to take your first steps into Hogwarts' Great Hall.
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For a 'Potter' obsessive, few moments can be more exciting than stepping onto the real Yorkstone floor of the Great Hall, past the house tables and towards the teachers' seats. The scale and detail of the set is instantly obvious, and you'll find yourself knocking on the ‘stone’ walls to reassure yourself that they're made from plaster and plywood.
In the main exhibition halls, none of the films' key items are missing, from tiny Golden Snitches to the enormous Magic is Might statue that dominated the hallway of the Ministry of Magic – the films' largest set – during the dark reign of Voldemort's Death Eaters.
There are a few concessions to practicality worth pointing out. The Gryffindor common room and boys' dormitory sit side-by-side. They used to live one atop the other, and you could walk up the steps at the back of the common room and into the dormitory – a consistency generally lacking from film sets, which often don't even boast a fourth wall. And there's only a brief slice of the wonderful Burrow set – which the Weasleys used to call home – only hinting at the wonderfully homely environment they'd created for the film.
These are minor complaints, of course, when you consider the sheer number of sets on display on the Harry Potter tour. Dumbledore's office, cleverly roped off to allow you to step quite far inside, is production designer Stuart Craig's favourite set, and the exhibition offers a chance to absorb its detail in a way the films rarely allowed. And outside, where you'll get to sample the cream soda-esque concoction that is Butterbeer, the exceptional covered bridge, and Number 4 Privet Drive, are recreated at full scale.
Perhaps the most exciting surprises are in store as you step onto the exhibition's second stage. The creatures shop is pretty accurately recreated, though arachnophobes beware: Aragog lies in wait here. The achievement of the shop's technical wizards can be fully appreciated when you meet Buckbeak, the Hippogriff. The creature's mechanics actually function, and it moves with such delicacy that it's hard not to be convinced you're meeting a real animal.
And that's to say nothing of Diagon Alley – fully rebuilt, and another set you can walk right through – and the tour's grandest finale: Hogwarts castle itself. Pictures simply can't do justice to the size of the 1:24 scale “minature” they created for the films' exterior shots. As the lights cycle between day and night, it's an oddly serene finish, and a true reminder of the magic of JK Rowling's beautiful world.
Tickets are £28 for adults and £21 for children, with a family-of-four deal setting you back £83. It's not cheap, but given the artistry of the work on display, and the amount of detail there is to absorb, it seems a fair price to pay. 'The Making of Harry Potter' is the UK's first dedicated studio tour experience, and a real insight into the production of one of cinema's most enduring franchises.
The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour opens on March 31. Tickets must be booked in advance from www.wbstudiotour.co.uk