The hour-long documentary, which aired on BBC Two in October, is narrated by Imelda Staunton and features an in-depth look at the British Library’s spectacular exhibition, which includes all sorts of weird and wonderful items. These include everything from ancient scrolls and old textbooks to artefacts from J.K. Rowling’s own archives.
Just before the show aired, we spoke to producer/director Jude Ho and assistant producer Alice Rhodes about the programme – you can read our interview here. They also told Pottermore about how much they enjoyed filming an array of Harry Potter actors reading from the books – including Evanna Lynch, Warwick Davis, Mark Williams, David Thewlis (‘He brings the beauty of the writing to life,’ Jude says) and Miriam Margolyes, who was great fun to work with (‘It was at the end of the day, and she was just what we needed to keep us going!’).
The programme doesn’t just focus solely on the world of Harry Potter: it also features interviews with ‘real world’ people with magical links. ‘Some of the items in the British Library exhibition have been taken from other institutions, and one of them was the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle,’ Alice explains. ‘When we were doing the research for the film, we really liked the look of some of those objects, so I got in touch with Simon Costin, who is owner of the museum. I sat with him for an hour and was really drawn into him and his stories – he was telling me about witchcraft and he really does believe in magic!’
The documentary also interviews two lovely chaps who have been making wands for generations. ‘We were interested in witchcraft in a modern-day context, and finding people who used magic today,’ says Alice. ‘I was speaking to people like pagans and druids. An email popped up in my inbox that said, “I know an 83-year-old wandmaker, would you like to speak to him?” I thought, “That sounds amazing!” So we spoke to him, and his warmth and his real love for what he did – and the tree spirits! – bowled us over.’
As well as people, the exhibition also features certain objects that carry a magical reputation, for example, the Bezoar, which exists both in Harry’s world and our world.
‘One of our favourite items was the Bezoar stone, which Harry uses to save Ron,’ Jude says. ‘That’s a genuine thing that people believed in. It’s inside the goat’s stomach, so you have swallow this massive ball of partially ingested goat’s stomach. What Alex Lock [one of the British Library’s curators] told us was that it would probably just make you sick, so if ever it did work, it was just because of that. We’d have loved to feature that one.’
Jude says she was amazed at the amount of research Alice did for the programme and how much she discovered. ‘When I read through it I thought, “My goodness, we live in such a magical world anyway.” When you think of all that happens, those people who all still believe in magic or have that relationship with it, they’re just more open to that sort of thing and can see the world with fresher eyes… Magic has been given a certain name and degraded a bit, when in some ways it’s just a way of perceiving the world.’
And ‘magic’ is maybe even closer to some of us than we realise. ‘It was really interesting working on this and rethinking my approach to magic,’ Alice says, ‘and how I’m actually really superstitious. I do check my horoscope!’
Professor Trelawney would be proud.
The Harry Potter: A History of Magic DVD is out now and is available to buy here.
You can buy tickets to the British Library exhibition here.