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Review Blog: The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studios

What to do with the Teen/Tween combo during the Easter holidays? How to avoid days of stultifying TV watching, kerb-trawling around the village and general boredom and lethargy? Well, we found the solution.

Yesterday we took the Terrible Two to the Warner Bros. studios at Leavesden, near Watford. A bit of a trek by car, given the state of the holidaying M25, but nevertheless we got there in one piece and without any tantrums. Result number 1.

The Two had no idea what they were going to, and it was a sick and twisted pleasure to keep the whole thing a secret from them for over three weeks! They were expecting the usual parental tortures of visiting castles and digesting historical facts;  yomping through open spaces requiring much movement of legs; or – worse – something involving home-made crafts. No, yesterday was not what they expected at all. Entry into the inner sanctum of the studio that filmed the Harry Potter movies was not on their radar. Result number 2.

We were ushered into the foyer to await our tour into the innermost workings of the Potter movies. We are all fans, even if we are far too cool and teenage/old to admit it. The first thing we saw was the poignant sight of Harry’s actual understairs bedroom:

Complete with cobwebs, spiders and a pair of round-eyed spectacles left by the side of the bed. Poor Harry! Then we went into a cinema for a brief film explanation from the main stars of the movies as to what we were about to see. Staff then lead us on to the first of the “wow” factors – the Great Hall. Gobsmacked doesn’t begin to describe the Mini-Pigs faces. I haven’t included the picture I took of them as they took it all in – I don’t want to spoil the surprise when you go along  – but it was an absolutely hysterical portrait of two kids who were trying not to show that they were seriously impressed!

The exhibition contains original sets, props, costumes and artwork from the movies that were filmed there. Harry’s Quidditch cape, the cloak of invisibility and Dumbledore’s robes – all here, all original and incredibly detailed pieces of work. The tour also explains to the layman how a movie is put together, who the main players are from the director of photography through to the make-up girls and runners. Satisfyingly, it also reveals how the children were part of a huge extended family of cast and crew – something I found very comforting given the 10 years or so the main characters spent at the studios and on these films.

There is also a creature workshop with all the ghouls, goblins and fantastical creatures that featured in the movie, from conceptual art to the moulds to the finished masks. There is even a hairy werewolf chest – the Man-Hog was momentarily intimidated by such manliness in a human dog. Then there’s the animatronics – moving works of art simply staggering in their detail and lifelike actions.

After all that, you can pay a visit to gringots Bank, wander through Diagon Alley, stop by the wand shop and pick a cage for your owl. You can sit in the flying car – and yes, that’s the real Hogwart’s bridge in the background there, not a painting:

Jump aboard the bike or take a photo on the back of the triple-storey night bus (seen in the background in the pic below):

You can even swoon over Ron Weasley’s bed with hand-knitted blanket, as the Mini-Pig Girl did….who knew she had long harboured such a crush??

Or, like the Man-Hog, you can marvel at the level of detail given to each prop, piece of original artwork or paper model which at every stage transforms the unbelievable creativity of J K Rowling’s mind and works into actuality. You can, like me, be moved by the simple things such as the sight of the REAL sorting hat (pic at top of page) or the incomparable final surprise of the tour which is so breathtaking and awesome I will not ruin your experience by detailing it here.

Besides all of this were the extremely courteous and knowledgeable staff, who knew details and snippets of information you will not get anywhere else. They were able to point out things to the children that they may not otherwise have noticed, and the experience was the richer for that. The Starbucks cafe at the entrance to the venue is an excellent, clean and comfortable place to meet with others before starting your tour. The shop at the end is full of everything a child could want and the prices were no more than you would pay in your local Disney or other concession store. Result number 3.

Forget what you may have read in the press, and don’t baulk at the price – I promise you it is well worth the money. The cost at the time of writing is £83 for a family of two adults and two children. The audio tour and digital guide are extra but are, apparently, excellent though we did not take advantage of it as I sometimes think those audio headphones cut off family enjoyment of being able to share things together. The price was worth every penny when your cynical “too cool for my own good” teenager turns to you in the final room and says, “Mum, that is just the most amazing thing I have EVER seen.” Worth the drive there when your son says “Thanks for today. I was a bit worried it would be boring but….it’s been brilliant.” Forget all of that when your husband says “Thanks for booking this….it wasn’t what I expected at all.”  The Man-Hog is rarely impressed by anything except my roast beef and Yorkshire pud. Successes on the family entertainment front, then, don’t come much better than this. Final Result: Harry Potter – 1,  Boredom & Lethargy – Nil

In conclusion, go and do this tour –  if you have even an inkling of the scale of astoundingly skilled work and people involved in bringing the Potter books to life, you will not be disappointed. You can book tickets at their website at http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk 

DISCLAIMER: All opinions expressed in this review are my own personal views and I have no link to Warner Bros. or any affiliated entity whatsoever. I wrote this review because I was impressed by the venue and did not write it for any form of monetary or other personal gain. All photos are my own.

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Plum Jam? Virtually None…..

I’m addicted to the movie “Calendar Girls” – an oldie but goodie. My daughter and I chuckle away at the same funny parts no matter how many times we see it. I’m a huge fan of Julie Walters so there’s that added bonus for me too.

For anyone who doesn’t know the film, its the true story of how a group of women from a Women’s Institute (WI) group in Northern England rally together to produce a radical semi-nude calendar to raise money for facilities at a local hospital where the husband of one of the women unfortunately died. The idea of anyone in the WI getting naked in public for any reason was very shocking at the time.

There’s a line in the film where one woman asks another: “Annie, what is the point of the WI?” and Annie answers “Enlightenment, fun and friendship!” This got me thinking about women like me (if there are any!), who are not sure about the whole jam and Jerusalem thing but who do enjoy the idea of sharing experiences and making friendships. I have therefore hatched an embryonic theory – could blogging be the Virtual WI for us women?

I sat down to think about it. (Yes, I know I should be cleaning something or reading to the children, but those who read this blog regularly know that it is, in fact, the kids that bring ME up not the other way around, so sshhh) And I wrote my fledgling ideas down:

ENLIGHTENMENT:

Lady-Blogs such as myself laugh, cry, empathise, educate and learn much with blogging and reading blogs of like-minded people. There is a vast array of subjects and issues discussed on blogs all over the UK and the world. The traditional WI talks are intended to enlighten in the same way. Virtual WI wins, however, as you can skip blogs focused solely on the history of bee-keeping or beets if they are not your bag. Imagine having to physically sit through an hour’s presentation on “Tissue Boxes Through the Ages”? Not for me, sorry – I’d rather click and go!

Blogging is something we do that is just for us. Our bit of “me time”. We feel comfortable amongst a group of people with a common interest. It is somewhere we can “go” with our ideas, get feedback, involve others and pass on the benefit of our experience. The traditional WI does much the same thing, except you have to go out in the rain (ugh), or stress to get back from work/picking up the kids etc. to go sit in a drab hall. Virtual WI just happens to be more convenient, at a time to suit, easily accessible (unless your broadband provider lets you down) and you can usually find a subject that suits your mood or interest, rather than being pigeon-holed into what’s on offer that night.

FUN:

I particularly like the friendships, camaraderie, support networks and the way different personalities and points of view blend together. And I have laughed my socks off at some of the blogs I have read. Virtual WI is fun!

There are the events such as the recent CyberMummy which, whether you like the idea or not, had more than a touch of the WI meeting about it. It’s nice to bring Virtual WI to a physical manifestation. (And then go away again!)

FRIENDSHIP:

As bloggers, we pour out our thoughts to those who are, initially, strangers but many of whom come to be dear friends over time. The friendships made face to face at WI groups work the same way, but such geographic and social diversity is tough for them to achieve. Virtual WI coverage wins hands-down here. It also has the advantage that you don’t have to see or deal with those who have unfortunate eye-tics or who are not quite your cup of tea every week. Excellent news.

OTHER THOUGHTS:

There is a “doing good” aspect to Virtual WI in the same way as the traditional one. Whether its helping you network to grow a home-based business, offering free advice to those in need based on your own professional expertise, or simply promoting a charity or fund-raising event to a wider audience, there is so much that can be achieved through word of blog at the Virtual WI. It is also, by its nature, able to focus towards the things YOU think are important, rather than causes and issues chosen at a remote national level which you may or may not agree with.

TRADITIONAL VS. VIRTUAL WI – WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR ME?

I’ve always thought that there would come a point where I would join the traditional WI – partly to escape that “empty nest” feeling I feel will come to the fore later on when the kids have left, and partly because I assume I will give up work at some point and will need something to get me out of the house so I don’t machete my long-suffering husband into tiny pieces (Hang on: does this count as a craft project? Hmm, maybe not.) I am not so sure now that I can blog and be blogged that the moment will arrive.

I’m also slightly intimidated by the traditional WI. In addition to craft projects and cake-baking (at which I expect to be crap anyway), it seems today’s modern WI has taken things to a new level. Their website expounds on some rigorous philanthropy and women’s activism particularly in areas like maternal care, poverty etc. This is great and very admirable but, between you and me, I don’t have the strength. I’m not sure this forceful modern WI fits with me, being a bit of a wuss and lazy to boot, or with the traditional reasons women like me would join it in the first place.

So, in conclusion, I think the traditional WI are missing a trick here. Instead of focusing on small groups of worthy ladies of a certain age in draughty church halls, sipping tepid coffee while wielding hand-made flyswatters decorated on an international theme, they perhaps should be broadening their membership and ensuring the WI’s survival by engaging on-line: the Virtual WI. Listening to women of all ages, the subjects they talk about, experiences they share, how and why they help each other. Witnessing good old-fashioned enlightenment, fun and friendship in action.

Getting naked for a calendar is not so radical out here in the Virtual WI – its what we do with our thoughts on our blogs every day. In my opinion, here lies the future for women like me much more so than trying to fit into an apron-clad scary women’s empowerment movement. I, for one, am not looking for that – all I really want is a bit of fun and a jolly network of mates. Perhaps that way of thinking is too simplistic, but the Virtual WI I’m seeing in the blogging world embraces it and allows for the way modern women like me can and want to come together: it fits with our lifestyles, doesn’t involve any lobbying of MPs (unless you want to) and most particularly no hateful plum jam.

Anyone else out there want to join my Virtual WI? New members welcome and you don’t have to bake a bloody thing if you don’t want to.