Behind the scenes: Designing Diagon Alley from scratch

The Dickensian shopping district for wizards on Diagon Alley was realised with consummate care and detail.

Extracted from Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey.
Set decorator Stephenie McMillan recalls: ‘One advantage going in was that I had an absolutely obsessive assistant on Philosopher’s Stone, one who was deeply into Harry Potter. She masterminded putting Diagon Alley together like a military operation, with everything catalogued.

‘We took all the places from the book, anything about the contents of the shops that was mentioned, and then expanded upon that.’

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Flea markets, junk shops and auctions in the real world were scoured for weeks to find appropriate items to stock in Diagon Alley’s shops. The challenge was that no one was allowed to reveal that they were purchasing items for the Harry Potter films. One assistant, when buying brooms in bulk, told the retailer it was because she had a lot of sweeping to do.

‘We bought as much as we could,’ says McMillan, ‘but we would also duplicate items we found, because, honestly, Diagon Alley holds a lot of stock.’

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Potage’s Cauldron Shop has cauldrons of all shapes and sizes, some in piles that snake up the front of the store. Eeylops Owl Emporium and the Magical Menagerie feature cages not only for owls, but for rats, bats and cats.

Mr Mulpepper’s Apothecary, which was named for the films, contains a cupboard with shelves 10 feet long and 24 feet high. ‘Only one prop man could dress it at a time,’ McMillan recalls. ‘We had to use a cherry-picker so that he could place the jars on the shelves one by one, all the way up.’

Diagon Alley is almost completely destroyed by Death Eaters in Half-Blood Prince. ‘Shops are boarded up and go out of business,’ says production designer Stuart Craig. ‘Ollivander’s is literally blown up. These fairly dire consequences required a substantial change of mood, which we achieved not just with the ruined buildings, but also by removing any bright colours and changing the lighting.’

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‘Harry Potter: Page to Screen'