They have taken over two large studios for the tour, conveniently known as Stage J and Stage K. The experience starts with a very clean and well layed-out foyer and a short queue in to the first part, which is a short film that builds the excitement, a bit like the warm-up comic before the main show in a TV recording. This did the trick, and then we were off on the tour, starting in the actual real-life** main hall. This was followed by the "internal set" section, which had a lot of detail on the internal sets, props, make-up, costume etc. The attention to detail was amazing, and this gripped the whole party from Maggot 2 up to our very own Scobi. There were sets for Hagrid's Hut (there were several of these, some done with large scale furniture, used to make Harry et al look small, and one on a small scale, to make Hagrid look big), Dumbledore's study (which sits as three interlocked round towers jutting out one of the main school towers), the Weasley's home, Diagon Alley and a whole bunch of other stuff. Being somewhat soft in the head, I even sat on a broomstick in a green-screen studio and flew over Hogwarts.
This absorbed us for over two hours. The next section was the outside set section, which also included refreshments. We tried Butterbeer (trade secret, it is an ice-cream float) and had a coffee before seeing the Knight Bus, a section from the long wooden walkway, and part of Privet Drive. One of the "Interactors" gave us the low-down on this. Apparently they did the first film somewhere like Bracknell. For the second film they moved to the other side of the same street, and for the third film onwards they used the mock-up of 4 and 5 Privet Drive in the studio, using CGI to build the rest of the street. The reason for all this was, apparently, money, in that the owners of the houses were either being greedy, or realising their potential, depending on your viewpoint (i.e. realist or knob-head respectively) by asking for more money for the second film, so to avoid being held to ransom, the director chose instead to build his own. Sensible chap.
Finally, we enter the animatronics section, with a charging three-part film with Warwick Davies and the actual prop lead, who has some acting potential, showing the amazing mechanical and remote control creatures they created. For example, and it is possible I am the only person in the land who did not know this, but some of the Hagrid scenes, where you really need to see his size, were done by a six foot seven inch rugby player with a fat suit and an animatronic remote-control head on top. A-ma-zing.
The final reveal was a scale model of the exterior of Hogwarts. It occupied probably and area twenty metres square, and was both meticulously made and massive. This was used for a number of shots such as "owl flying in to Hogwarts tower" and other exterior shots, and again, it was very impressive.
The final room was stacked floor to ceiling with four thousand boxes, each containing a hand-picked wand and with the inscription of the particular cast or crew member. Every person on the film had a box, and with a bit of searching we were able to find Emma, Daniel and JK Rowling, but not Rupert.
We ended up giving it a nine out of ten. The missing one was for the long queue for the broomstick, and the slight lack of interactive sets. This may be harsh as the sets were the actual, real-life proper sets used in the film, but I for one would have preferred to have bought my Butterbeer from the Three Broomsticks rather than a catering window outside. This is a very very very tiny critique of what was otherwise an absolutely amazing day out, and total value for money. Also, you want to save your ten just in case.
We reckon it may have five years, perhaps a bit more, so if you are OK with Harry Potter and love the behind-the-scenes look at how it was made, then you cannot spend your money better than visit this attraction.
----------------------------------* not the beer then? Ed.
** Real life can be a relative thing, and you should not be concerned that any of us thought this was real life, but you know what we mean, it was made to look real, had a flagstone wall, even though when you walk out you see that it is a wooden shell, covered in plaster and painted to look hundreds of years old.