In 2009, when I was invited on the set of the sixth Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it was eight years since the release of the first movie in the franchise, and Leavesden studios had already morphed from what had been essentially some sheds without sound stages into something altogether slicker. I was struck by the scale of the vast metal hanger at its core, but also by its capacity for intimacy. Cast and crew had pushbikes to pedal from one location to the next, Hogwarts’ Great Hall was built to scale and the Weasleys’ small, cold and dark living room had a strong smell of washing powder which was at odds with its dankness. Daniel Radcliffe, an engaging Harry Potter on screen and a thoughtful young man off it, explained how he learned to dive for an underwater scene in The Goblet of Fire in Europe’s largest film-making tank, which was set up in a corner of the studio.
Fast forward to the pandemic and it is Eddie Redmayne whose swimming skills are called into action. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, a sequence in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore in which Newt enters summer waters had to be shifted to night shoots in Leavesden in December. Not the warmest of prospects, but achievable at the Warner Bros Hertfordshire studios, which in the decade since my visit have grown even further into an astonishing state-of-the-art operation.