Interview with the producers of the new BBC documentary Harry Potter: A History of Magic

The Pottermore News Team

Warwick Davis
Warwick Davis. Image credit, BBC.

Pottermore talks to producer/director Jude Ho and assistant producer Alice Rhodes about the BBC programme, which accompanies the British Library’s exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

The hour-long documentary, which airs on 28 October on BBC Two, goes behind the scenes of the exhibition as well as meeting some of the people in the real world who deal with magic every day – from the staff at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle to actual wandmakers.

There will also be special cameos from Harry Potter actors David Thewlis, Evanna Lynch, Mark Williams, Warwick Davis and Miriam Margolyes, who read extracts from the books, and the programme is narrated by Imelda Staunton. ‘I think it was just the love of the books that brought them,’ says Jude.

Watch a trailer for the documentary here:

We also see what happens when J.K. Rowling herself came face-to-face with some of the exhibition’s many intriguing exhibits, which include medieval drawings of mandrakes and the humongous Ripley Scroll, which dates from the sixteenth century. ‘We knew exactly in advance what objects we would be showing her,’ reveals Jude. ‘She genuinely hadn’t seen anything.’

‘It was just an amazing experience to film with her in the Library, and see her look at these items for real, in the flesh, for the first time,’ says Alice. ‘And she said that she couldn’t get it into her head that her objects were being shown in the British Library. She couldn’t quite believe that.’

Because, of course, not all of the items in the collection are ancient artefacts – in the documentary, we see J.K. Rowling’s own drawings and manuscripts being unwrapped as carefully and reverently as exhibits that are thousands of years old. Although perhaps they needed a bit more of this consideration earlier in their lives… ‘When you look at them closely, they’ve got tea stains all over them and they’re all crumpled,’ laughs Jude.

Evanna Lynch
Evanna Lynch. Image credit, BBC.

The idea to make a programme about the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition came from the BBC Documentary department, who approached the British Library and were blown away by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the Library’s curators. But balancing the needs of Harry Potter fans with an exploration into magic in the real world was a tough call.

‘We don’t want to alienate the audience, as so many people love and cherish Harry Potter, but we don’t want to patronise the fans, either,’ says Jude. ‘So it’s a really important balancing act for us. I think a lot of it came from the way we chose readings that paired very strongly with the objects.’

Working on the documentary was certainly an intense experience, Alice laughs. ‘Re-reading the books again for this project, that’s the thing that struck me the most – how obsessed I got with that world again. And I was thinking in the Potter universe way more than was natural!’

Harry Potter: A History of Magic will broadcast at 9pm on 28 October on BBC Two.

You can buy tickets for the British Library exhibition here.