REVIEW: Keeping The Magic Alive On The Hogwarts Express
Carmel Riggs discovers no spells are required to board the Hogwarts Express – just a willingness to embrace all things witchcraft and wizardry.
We’d been planning our trip to to the Warner Bros Studios in London for months, so when we finally arrived over the Halloween midterm we were eager to get our magic on. It didn’t matter that my two daughters, aged 13 and eight, were latecomers to the Harry Potter phenomenon or that my husband and I were not his biggest fan.
Up until a few weeks ago the one Harry Potter trivia I was absolutely certain of was that the actress Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna Lovegood, grew up in the same town as me, and her father had been my teacher in secondary school. But a day at the Harry Potter Studio Tour changed all that. I now know what Diagon Alley is, I can visualise Professor Snape and Voldemort without having to go online, and the cupboard under the stairs has a whole meaning.
Situated in the Leavesden Studios near Watford, north London, the site was originally an old aircraft factory. Over the course of a decade all eight films were made here, and the Studio Tour offers visitors the opportunity to explore two soundstages and a backlot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures and breathtaking special effects. We had pre-booked the 4pm tour, allowing us plenty of time to drive from Gatwick Airport.
Excitement mounted as we drove into the car park and the dreams of our Gryffindor-obsessed muggles were finally being realised. As it was a Wednesday the queues on entering were manageable and we flew through security.
When you go into the tour, you are taken first into a dark room before being ushered into the cinema for a pre-show about the studio and the Harry Potter franchise. No-one could contain their happiness when the doors to the Great Hall opened – seeing the two large tables side by side was surreal, especially for my daughters. And of course seeing their faces light up when they saw Hermione’s, Harry’s and Draco’s uniforms on display was everything.
There were so many sets, props and costumes that it’s hard to recall every single one but the highlights were Dumbledore’s office, the boys’ dormitory, the Gryffindor common room, the Weasley family kitchen, the cobblestoned Diagon Alley, the Knight Bus, actually stepping inside No.4 Privet Drive, and turning the corner to Platform 9¾ where the original Hogwarts Express sits. Here, the recreation is so good that we actually felt like we were at King’s Cross station.
We explored the interior carriage set that was used during filming and even took turns pushing the trolley through the brick wall of Platform 9¾ – a particular favourite for Daughter No.1. The broomstick ride against a green ensured Daughter No.2 was spellbound even further. The magical creatures dreamed up by JK Rowling – from Aragog to Dobby – were also on display. No trip to Hogwarts could be complete without a glass of non-alcoholic Butterbeer. But the drink of choice for young wizards failed to impress our girls!
Overall, the tour took us just under three hours but you can stay longer. Towards the end, the miniature model of Hogwarts blew us all away. It had been used in the exterior shots of the films and the attention to detail is incredible. We stood watching it for about 15 minutes, absorbing the fibre optic lighting effects and impressive craftwork that apparently took months to complete.
The gift shop on exiting was as we expected: overpriced but every Harry Potter fan’s fantasy. There’s so much merchandise from all of the movies – including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which made its big-screen debut last month – that the difficulty here is what to look at first. Preferring to splash their cash in Primark on Oxford Street the following day, our girls only bought a t-shirt for £22.95, a sports bottle for £12.95 and some pencils for friends. They didn’t need “stuff” to relive the magic of Harry Potter when they returned back home – the Studio Tour had cast a spell that will stay with them forever.
A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) to Warner Bros Studio costs £118, approximately €137; to book yours visit www.wbstudiotour.co.uk