It has been a site of worship for more than 1,300 years. William the Conqueror ordered its construction. The bones of King Edward II molder in its walls. Its Norman arches, candy-colored glass, and twisted stonework make visitors stop and gasp. Just stepping inside requires revising the small-minded American scale of history.
Yet despite nearly a millennium of being, Gloucester Cathedral has never seen a set of pilgrims quite like the ones about to descend upon it. They’re coming already, drawn by the film that was shot here less than a year ago, a movie based on a book that’s regarded with almost as much reverence the world over as the book that got the cathedral built in the first place. In fact, at this moment, a 13-year-old is standing slack-jawed below the thin turrets of its 225-foot tower. She wears a scarlet-and-gold jersey. It reads ”Gryffindor Seeker.”
A fellow teen passes, sees her, and wrinkles her nose. ”’arry Potter! ‘arry Potter! ‘arry Potter! That’s all anyone cares about ‘round here. Godalmighty!”
Hate to tell you this, luv, but you’d better just get used to it. In fact, we’d all better get used to it. The hype. The magazine covers. The merchandise. The Coca-Cola cans. And oh, yeah—the movie: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, based on the 1997 novel by J.K. Rowling, the first installment in what Rowling has long promised will be a seven-volume hero’s journey through the tortured adolescence of her beloved boy wizard. The fervently awaited adaptation—written by Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys), directed by Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire), and starring 11-year-old newcomer Daniel Radcliffe in the title (and utterly life-changing) role—will finally arrive in theaters Nov. 16. The film, which cost a reported $125 million, will carry not only the immense weight of fan anticipation but the expensive expectations of Warner Bros. and corporate parent AOL Time Warner, which are betting on Harry Potter becoming one of those once-in-a-blue-moon, Batman-big franchise properties that can generate billions for years to come. (Did we mention that ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY is owned by said vast media machine?) And if that isn’t enough, it also comes saddled with the economic hopes of Harry Potter’s native England, which is counting on the movies to pump hundreds of millions of pounds into its film industry and even help reignite its tourism trade.
And to think Stone’s roll to the big screen began four years ago with a man who merely wanted to make a family film. In 1997, producer David Heyman (Juice, Ravenous) had just returned to London after a stint in Hollywood, in search of a children’s book that would have wide appeal as a movie. After failing to set up his first choice—The Ogre Downstairs, by Diana Wynne Jones—his staff at Heyday Films found him another: a critically lauded best-seller titled, in the U.K., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. His assistant read the book and pushed it. ”’It’s a cool idea,”’ Heyman recalls her saying. ”’It’s about a boy in wizarding school.”’