Harry Potter magic could help village hall

Her cinematic creations have bewitched viewers of the silver screen around the globe – and now an Oscar-winning set designer will work her magic on a community project much closer to home.

Stephenie McMillan, who has worked on all the Harry Potter films, will show off her elaborate props and film merchandise to raise money for a replacement village hall at her adopted home of Weston Longville.

The community is desperately trying to raise �250,000 to replace the hall in the village, near Norwich.

And Ms McMillan will help the campaign by giving an illustrated talk about her work, using photographs and about 40 props from the films at the Wizard Fun fundraiser on Saturday.

Ms McMillan, who splits her time between Norfolk and London, has worked on a number of well-known films during her varied career, including A Fish Called Wanda, Chocolat, Notting Hill and Shadowlands.

She got involved with the Harry Potter films after she was approached by designer Stuart Craig.

One of her favourite sets was when the great hall was radically transformed for Hogwarts' Yule Ball in the fourth film, with metres of silver fabric and ice sculptures.

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Harry's cupboard under the stairs and professor Delores Umbridge's totally pink office also stand out in her mind, but she is proud of all the sets.

'It's the same job whether you are dressing a prison cell with an old mattress and a tin mug, or a palace with silk curtains and chandeliers,' she said. 'We put the same amount of thought into it.'

As well as watching its young stars grow up, Ms McMillan has seen the job change while working on the films, with her department increasingly using the internet to find the perfect props.

'We have definitely saved on leg work by sourcing props over the internet. We use Ebay sometimes and buy things from America.'

The crew signed confidentiality agreements preventing them from revealing the film they were working on, leading to some awkward moments.

She remembers a flustered assistant buying 36 besom brooms and feebly explaining: 'I have an awful lot of sweeping to do!'

Among the props to be displayed at the fundraiser will be a cauldron from the potion classroom, a jar of sweets from Honeydukes Sweet Shop, a replica of Hermione's wand, pewter tableware and food from the great hall, a bottle of pumpkin juice and jugs used by Hagrid.

'I wanted to help because the existing village hall has done a sterling job over the years, but it would be a false economy to repair the existing one. We want to bring it into the 21st century,' said Ms McMillan.

She is looking forward to attending the premiere of the seventh Harry Potter epic in London's Leicester Square tonight, when all the film's major stars are expected to turn out.

'We are incredibly proud of what we produce because it's consistently of a high standard,' she said.

'It's a big family really, it's nice to spend time together and see people again.'

Ms McMillan started out styling still photography in the late 1960s, before moving into television commercials and eventually films in the 1980s.

She worked with Mr Craig on eight films previously and won an Academy Award for their work on the English Patient in 1996.

The Wizard Fun fundraiser will be held at Weston Longville Village Hall from 4pm to 6pm on Saturday. There will be a chance to ask questions, a Harry Potter quiz, refreshments, prizes for the best-dressed wizards and a raffle of Harry Potter merchandise. Tickets, costing �3, are available from Julie Warnes on 07900 047452 or Ruth Goodall on 01603 880000. Alternatively, email ruthgoodall@btinternet.com.