So yes, I'm writing the thesis, but when a friend calls me to say that she's going with her boyfriend to the Harry Potter Studios at Leavesden and do I want to come along? then the only thing to do is to stop writing the t. and jump into the car, Leavesden-bound.
those of you who haven't heard of that new brave new world of
Pottermania (and I was one of them), here's the elevator pitch: while
sipping caviar milkshake on the shore of their artificial lake of liquid
gold, the Warner brothers reflected that now that the Potter
films were all filmed they had all those props and sets and costumes
lying around in their attic gathering dust and that they should really
give them all to Oxfam. Or alternatively, stack it all in half a dozen
gigantic hangars and ask people for £28 in non-Leprechaun money to come
and look at them.
They thought about it for about half a second, and
settled for the latter option.
Now, Harry Potter is more
or less the most important thing to have happened to me in my late
childhood and for all of my adolescence, but I'm not a huge fan of the
films at all. And I'm even less of a fan of enormous American
money-making corporations such as WB. So I wasn't expecting to love the
visit: I was expecting to have fun superficially while grinding my teeth
at what they'd done to Jo's universe and remembering what it was like
when no one but me had read the books in my school and now all those
untrue fans of the series who discovered it through the films are
pretending that they know it better than me. It's a hard life, you know,
having to constantly prove that you're a better fan than the people who
call Emma Watson 'Hermione'. ('Have you heard, Hermione's going to
Brown University!' 'No she isn't, and you're a troll.' ) (Childish, me?)
But against all odds, I loved it. I absolutely adored every moment of it. Here's why.
People who think that this exhibition is just for Harry Potter fans are wrong. It isn't. As
a Potter fan, you will have a lot of fun; but even if you haven't read
the books or seen the films, even if you're not even that interested in
children's literature, you have to go. Because it's not just about Harry
Potter, far from it: it's an incredible, exhilarating celebration of
Even though you've been told again and again that
making a film takes a lot of time, money and people, even for tiny
details that only appear on screen for a few seconds, I don't think you
can actually believe it until you see it. That's exactly what the
Studios exhibition does. In the three to four hours that it
takes to visit it, you get to see the unbelievable variety of objects,
costumes, sets, special effects which you'd never noticed on screen, but
which were necessary for the whole thing to function. The
incredibly detailed architects' drawings which preceded the building of
the models. The conception of the clothes, wigs, make-up, accessories
down to the merest sleeve button. The thought that went into the design
of each wand, each wand box. The oil paintings full of private
jokes among members of the crew. The wonderful handmade objects of the
Room of Requirement which you barely see before they get destroyed by
Fiendfyre. The handwritten books and handbooks, the handprinted
newspapers and magazines, the handlettered Marauders' Map.
So many hands.
is beautifully, neatly presented; the aim is to make the visitors feel
that they're walking not from one set to the next, but from one room of
Hogwarts to the next. The organisation of the visit is a bit
dictatorial: you have to book a timeslot in advance, and don't you dare
arrive late. The exhibition is packed, even in the middle of the week,
in the middle of the day. Barely any children, but hundreds of
20-45-year-olds. Yes, it's a big Disneylandish from time to
time, but by no means all the time. Generally, the quality of the
materials used - real stone, real wood, beautifully-textured fabrics -
prevents it all from looking like the Haunted House.
definition, I don't think you can get a good idea of what it truly feels
like just by looking at pictures, since even the films didn't do that.
But here's a bit of what we saw that day - thanks Zahra for most of the
- Drink-driving the Ford Anglia.
- The wand boxes, all individually handlettered with names of the thousands of people who worked on the films
- A Potter named desire
- The letters we all wish we'd received on the day of our eleventh.
- The Knight Bus, without even needing to call it.
- Privet Drive. Or, Any British House.
- The amazing interior of the Weasleys' house, with all the details you never spotted.
- The ominously beheaded trio in the Gryffindor Common Room
Now what, you also want to know how much I spent that day? Here's a breakdown:
- Up and down Diagon Alley
That's almost £45, and not counting transport, nor the indispensible glass of Butterbeer, which Zahra treated me to:
- Ticket: £28
- Audioguide: £4.50 (don't take it, it's not worth it; there's too much to see to bother with it)
- Sandwich and coffee at the cafeteria conveniently placed halfway through the exhibition: £5
- Two chocolate wands at the shop conveniently placed at the end of the exhibition: £7
yes, the Warner brothers are doing great, thank you very much. And I'd
understand if it bothers you. But really, what a shame it would be to
miss this completely disproportionate, extremely well-thought-out,
immensely enjoyable look at the secrets of the eight Potter films.
Labels: film, harry potter, merchandise