An atmospheric exhibition has opened in Covent Garden showing behind the scenes footage from the filming of the Harry Potter movies. Almost everything in the exhibition is original from the film, including one of the full-size model flying cars that hangs suspended above the stairs you walk down to get into the exhibition.
A decorated basement, which was until recently a James Bond exhibition, is filled with a range of Harry Potter movie moments, all captured by a photographer working on the stages and sets. Decorated in places with actual glowing brick walls from Diagon Alley and seemingly glowing tiles from the Ministry of Magic, it’s a space that a potter-fan will recognise.
There’s always a risk with exhibitions like this that they break the magic of the magical world to see how it’s all done, but there’s still a delight in seeing how something that’s done well is achieved so expertly. I used to be an amateur magician and even when I know how a trick is done, it’s really enjoyable to watch a magician performing it to perfection. The magic of the trick never really goes away.
Modern special effects filming being what it is, there’s a delight to see that so many of the stages are real, and the use of greenscreen is limited to far landscapes and skies being painted in above the stages. To know that many of the magical places were actually crafted from wood and paint and existed in a real sense for the actors is rather nice. There’s something lacking when it’s all done with digital effects, for the actors as well as the audience.
The scene where a telephone box is lowered into the Ministry of Magic is actually lowered into the stage, as you can see the wires holding it up before they are digitally painted out. Although if you pose in the exhibition’s phone box, do be aware that it’s a pre-1955 era K6 box (the crown is the giveaway as to the date), not the larger K2 used in the film.
Of course, some of the locations are real world as well, and a whole area is given over to the filming at King’s Cross station, which it turns out was done while the station was open – just early enough to avoid too many crowds.
A lot of the facts on display boards won’t surprise potter-fans, but they are educational for the rest of us, and to learn that the scene for Grimmauld Place was filmed at Claremont Square near Angel tube station is a pleasing surprise. I had always assumed without giving it too much thought that it was a stage set.
Apart from the photos taken on set, there’s a lot of candid moments captured as tired actors rest, or acting enemies caught chatting happily with each other. Voldemort practising a scene is in full makeup, but wearing jogging clothes as if off out to pick up the Sunday newspapers rather than preparing to fight an army of wizards.
The tiles are interesting, they look to be glowing but that’s just a paint effect — and one that looks to be so simple to replicate that I expect to see many a bathroom filled with them one day as it’s quite effective.
You can sit on a broom and get a photo taken with a background added in to show you flying.
There’s also a butterbeer bar, although I was disappointed to learn that the bottles of butterbeer sold in the shop are a non-alcoholic drink. To be honest, butterbeer sounded awful and I wanted to try one as a beer, but it’s a soft drink and not as bad as a butter-based beer could have been. And yes there’s a shop. Of course there’s a shop, packed full of muggle delights.
As an exhibition, it’s obviously going to appeal to any Harry Potter fan, but it’s also a fascinating look at how modern moviemaking is made, so likely to have a wider appeal than just the potter-fandom.
The Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition is just around the back of Covent Garden behind the London Transport Museum. Tickets range from £14 for children, £20 for adults, or £56 for families, and need to be booked in advance from here.
A tip – early in the exhibition is the Gringotts Bank display, and if one person stands on the entrance side of the glass case, the face of the goblin is reflected in the glass case on the other side, and with a bit of careful positioning, you can superimpose a goblin over your head.
Like all good magic, it’s done with mirrors.